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Outlawry, Liminality, and Sanctity in the Literature of the Early Medieval North Atlantic
 9462984085, 9789462984080, 9789048534593

Table of contents :
Acknowledgements 9
Introduction: The Hermit and the Outlaw 11
Defining Outlawry 13
Outlawry, Mobility, and the Middle Ages 15
Transgression and Conduct 23
The North Atlantic Sea of Islands 26
Texts and Dates 38
1. Outlawry and Liminality in the North Atlantic 43
The Meaning of 'Wrecca' 43
Itinerancy, Capital, and Power 47
The Role of the Outlaw 51
Outlawry in North Atlantic Literature and Practice 54
The 'Rite de Passage' and Liminality 61
The Potential and Threat of the Liminal 64
2. Imitating Exile in Early Medieval Ireland 69
'Ailithre', Penance, and Punishment 69
The Desert Sea 73
The Concept of Conduct 79
The 'Immram', a Genre of Conduct 84
Conduct and Obedience 95
3. Lessons of Conduct in Anglo-Saxon England 105
Irish Conduct in Anglo-Saxon England? 105
Cynewulf and the Life as Journey 110
The Old English 'Physiologus' and the Problem of Conduct 117
'Discretio Spirituum' 122
Pride and Hazardous Conduct 127
Discerning the Meaning of the Old English 'Physiologus' 135
4. The Transgressive Hero 139
Holy 'Wreccan' 139
Guthlac of Crowland, Outlaw of God 144
The Intersection of Outlaw and Ascetic 151
'Doxa' and Transgression 159
Transgression and 'Aglæcan' 164
Conduct and the Outlaw 170
5. Cultural Exchange at the Boundaries of the Far North 179
Outlaws and Transculturalism 179
Encountering Others in Norse Saga and Belief 180
The 'Finnar', the Norse, and those in Between 182
Cultural Conduct among the Gods 189
Conduct in the Far North 194
6. Transgression in Transition after the Norman Conquest 197
A New Outlaw for a New Time 197
Hereward the Wake 199
The Fens as Transgressive Environment 206
The Abbey of Ely as Transgressive Space 211
Altering the Outlaw’s Environment 217
Move Forward 222
Bibliography 225
Index 253

Citation preview

Outlawry, Liminality, and Sanctity in the Literature of the Early Medieval North Atlantic

The Early Medieval North Atlantic This series provides a publishing platform for research on the history, cultures, and societies that laced the North Sea from the Migration Period at the twilight of the Roman Empire to the eleventh century. The point of departure for this series is the commitment to regarding the North Atlantic as a centre, rather than a periphery, thus connecting the histories of peoples and communities traditionally treated in isolation: Anglo-Saxons, Scandinavians/Vikings, Celtic communities, Baltic communities, the Franks, etc. From this perspective new insights can be made into processes of transformation, economic and cultural exchange, the formation of identities, etc. It also allows for the inclusion of more distant cultures – such as Greenland, North America, and Russia – which are of increasing interest to scholars in this research context. Series Editors Marjolein Stern, Gent University Charlene Eska, Virginia Tech Julianna Grigg, Monash University

Outlawry, Liminality, and Sanctity in the Literature of the Early Medieval North Atlantic

Jeremy DeAngelo

Amsterdam University Press

Cover illustration: A section of the Kerry Way along Dingle Bay in County Kerry, Ireland Cover design: Coördesign, Leiden Lay-out: Crius Group, Hulshout isbn 978 94 6298 408 0 e-isbn 978 90 4853 459 3 (pdf) doi 10.5117/9789462984080 nur 684 © Jeremy DeAngelo / Amsterdam University Press B.V., Amsterdam 2019 All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this book may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the written permission of both the copyright owner and the author of the book.

For my parents

Table of Contents Acknowledgements


Introduction: The Hermit and the Outlaw Defining Outlawry Outlawry, Mobility, and the Middle Ages Transgression and Conduct The North Atlantic Sea of Islands Texts and Dates

11 13 15 23 26 38

1 Outlawry and Liminality in the North Atlantic The Meaning of Wrecca Itinerancy, Capital, and Power The Role of the Outlaw Outlawry in North Atlantic Literature and Practice The Rite de Passage and Liminality The Potential and Threat of the Liminal

43 43 47 51 54 61 64

2 Imitating Exile in Early Medieval Ireland Ailithre, Penance, and Punishment The Desert Sea The Concept of Conduct The Immram, a Genre of Conduct Conduct and Obedience

69 69 73 79 84 95

3 Lessons of Conduct in Anglo-Saxon England Irish Conduct in Anglo-Saxon England? Cynewulf and the Life as Journey The Old English Physiologus and the Problem of Conduct Discretio Spirituum Pride and Hazardous Conduct Discerning the Meaning of the Old English Physiologus

105 105 110 117 122 127 135

4 The Transgressive Hero Holy Wreccan Guthlac of Crowland, Outlaw of God The Intersection of Outlaw and Ascetic Doxa and Transgression

139 139 144 151 159

Transgression and Aglæcan 164 Conduct and the Outlaw 170 5 Cultural Exchange at the Boundaries of the Far North Outlaws and Transculturalism Encountering Others in Norse Saga and Belief The Finnar, the Norse, and those in Between Cultural Conduct among the Gods Conduct in the Far North

179 179 180 182 189 194

6 Transgression in Transition after the Norman Conquest A New Outlaw for a New Time Hereward the Wake The Fens as Transgressive Environment The Abbey of Ely as Transgressive Space Altering the Outlaw’s Environment Move Forward

197 197 199 206 211 217 222

Bibliography 225 Index 253

Acknowledgements While this work has taken shape, I have been as peripatetic as my subjects. As a consequence, there are many people over the course of my travels who have helped guide this project. First and greatest thanks should go to my dissertation committee at the University of Connecticut: Bob Hasenfratz, my advisor, who was the best combination of helpful and hands-off; Fred Biggs, for his perspective and availability; Brendan Kane, for encouraging me to be bold; and to Sherri Olsen, for her careful readings. I should also mention Thomas Jambeck, who encouraged my dangerous fascination with Finns; C. David Benson, for swooping in and saving the day on several occasions; and Daniel Wakelin, for having confidence in me. I need to also thank my colleagues – Brandon Hawk, Pami Longo, Jo MacGugan, Leah Schwebel, and Lindy Brady – for their friendship, perception, and intelligence. Over the course of the past few years, I have also been privileged to be a member of many academic fellowships. The fellows at the UConn Humanities Institute, led by Sharon Harris and Brendan Kane, were an early and formative influence on this book. Thanks should also go to the Folger Institute, where I met Jeffrey Cohen, who has been inspiring and supportive ever since. I owe great thanks to Michelle A. Stephens and Yolanda Martínez-San Miguel, who made the counterintuitive decision to include a medievalist in their 2015 seminar on archipelagoes at the Center for Cultural Analysis at Rutgers University. My year there was horizon-expanding, and introduced me once again to an indefatigably brilliant and supportive collection of scholars who are doing groundbreaking work. I also owe thanks to the English and History faculty at Carleton College, and to the Center for Medieval Studies at the University of Minnesota. Thanks as well to E.T. Dailey at Amsterdam University Press, and to Joseph Nagy, for some crucial recommendations late in the game. Finally, I need to thank my family. My wife Amanda has been unbelievably supportive and patient through this entire process. I cannot thank her enough. Thank you as well to Paul, Penny, and Patrick, who always keep things interesting, especially when I am working. My entire family has been incredibly supportive, especially my sisters Rita and Clara, but special thanks needs to go to my mother, Tina, who has shepherded all her children through their personal and professional lives with her unstinting love and confidence in our abilities. A project like this also cannot help but make me think of my father, Paul, who would have derived immense satisfaction from his son writing a book-length work on stepping outside of one’s comfort zone. This book is dedicated to my parents.



Note Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own, even when the edition cited includes a translation. These may have been consulted (and therefore cited for comparison), but not followed so as to convey nuances in the original languages that may otherwise be missed (the distinction between ailithre and pilgrimage, for example). The punctuation has typically been updated as well.

Introduction: The Hermit and the Outlaw The late medieval poem The Hermit and the Outlaw dates from the turn of the fourteenth century, and is preserved in two extant manuscripts.1 It is a straightforward exemplum, highly reminiscent of the parable of the prodigal son, concerning two brothers, one a ‘gode ermyte’ and the other a ‘wylde outlawe’ and ‘erraunt theff’.2 The bulk of the story follows the fate of the latter, who makes an ingenuous attempt to repent after encountering a pilgrim in the woods. The humor of his callowness and resistance to hard work eventually gives way to tragedy, however, as what was meant to be an easy penance becomes for him a matter of life or death. Determined to take no water – a drink he normally detests – the outlaw is subjected to intense thirst and is offered only water to slake it. Instead of succumbing to temptation, he opens his veins and drinks his blood, dying in this world but gaining life eternal. The hermit has a vision of his brother rising to heaven and, unaware of the circumstances of his death, bitterly compares his brother’s life with his own: Lorde, what may thys be, Thys myrthe & thys solempnite, My brother ys nowe ynne? – That neuer wrouȝt wel, ywys, But al hys lyfe hadde ladde amys, And ay do wo & synne. For to defoylene mayd & wyfe – Thus he hathe ledde hys lyfe – Ne wolde he neuer blynne. Nowe me thenketh y lyue to longe, Othyr ellys God doyth me wronge, That he thus heuene may wynne. And y that suffyr payn & woo, Euyl lygge and barfote go, 1 British Library MS Additional 22577 and British Library MS Additional 37492, folios 76v to 82v. The first is a transcription of the other. For editions of each, see ‘The Eremyte and the Outelawe’, pp. 165-182; and ‘The Hermit and the Outlaw: An Edition’, pp. 137-166. 2 ‘The Hermit and the Outlaw: An Edition’, lines 28, 30, and 31.



And fast vnto water & brede, Hereof me thenketh gret ferly That he may come to heuene or y, ffor euer he was a queed. I wyl be a outlawe & non ermyte And cast awey my grey abyte And alle myn other wede, And robbe and sle, bothe on & other, And come to heuene as doth my brother, Thys ys my best reed.3

God quickly upbraids the hermit for his resentfulness, and subsequent investigation reveals to him his brother’s late conversion and the manner of his death. Reassured of the justice of his brother’s salvation, the hermit lives out the rest of his days in devotion and eventually goes to heaven himself. Both the story and the message of this piece are uncomplicated, yet the exemplum only works if one accepts the outlaw and the hermit as moral opposites – one the epitome of depravity, the other the essence of holiness. The outlaw, we are told, is ‘erraunt’ – that is, he wanders, and the restlessness of his body and the transience of his lifestyle contrasts with the steady, sedentary life of prayer and privation taken up by his brother. The outlaw’s errancy speaks also of his theological error, in that he has lived his life in opposition to Christian teaching; the difference between this and his brother’s religious steadfastness is crucial to the lesson of the poem. All this makes sense for us in the modern world, as well. Yet so obvious a divergence between the criminal and the hermit was not always the case, not in England nor in the cultures that surrounded it in Britain or in the North Sea. Outlawry, while a severe punishment, was also recognized as opening pathways to growth both practical and spiritual; Christian sanctity was not always so closely associated with stability and establishment. The sources behind The Hermit and the Outlaw attest to this history, however faintly. As Richard Firth Green notes, the piece is derived from a tradition of Christian fabliaux typified by the French Vie des Pères; this, in turn, used as a model – though not so much a source – the late classical Lives of the Desert Fathers, which as we will see was extremely influential in formulating early North Atlantic ideas about asceticism and the usefulness

3 ‘The Hermit and the Outlaw: An Edition’, lines 295-318. I am reproducing the editorial decisions of my source. Italics denote expasions of abbreviations found in the manuscript.

Introduction: The Hermit and the Outlaw


of transience. 4 The primary interest of this work is to examine how the concept of outlawry – of being outside the normally acceptable bounds of society – could be understood to benefit the individual and their community both practically and spiritually.

Defining Outlawry While to the popular imagination the evocation of the ‘outlaw’ most readily conjures up images of the Robin Hood tales of the Late Middle Ages, outlawry as a legal concept is much older, and potentially pre-medieval. The ability to precisely define outlawry and identify it in the historical record is difficult, due to a number of factors. One is the dearth of legal documents for certain crucial times and places; others are problems with terminology and disagreement over just what, precisely, constitutes outlawry.5 For these reasons, the history of examination of the topic is marked by competing definitions. The first to attempt one was F. Liebermann in ‘Die Friedlosigkeit bei den Angelsachen’, who understood outlawry (at least within Germanic societies) as the loss of the peace guaranteed to an individual by their ruler.6 This conception was vigorously disputed by Julius Goebel, Jr. who saw it as insufficient to cover all forms of outlawry. He himself proposed three separate gradations: fleeing the jurisdiction, formal exile, and, finally, loss of peace.7 Flowing from this effort was Goebel’s insistence not to develop universalist theories of Germanic law divorced from either time or place.8 Following his lead, more recent scholarship treats outlawry, like any other legal concept, as subject to change and therefore culturally specific. As a result, whereas more traditionalist or conceptual studies may depict outlawry as ancient or particularly Germanic or North European, medievalists increasingly view it as a practice which evolved throughout the Middle Ages in response to input from both secular Roman and ecclesiastical law.9 4 ‘The Hermit and the Outlaw: An Edition’, pp. 139-143; and Tudor, ‘The One That Got Away’, p. 11. 5 For recent explorations of these issues, see van Houts, ‘The Vocabulary of Exile and Outlawry’, pp. 13-28; and Carella, ‘The Earliest Expression for Outlawry in Anglo-Saxon Law’, pp. 111-144. 6 Liebermann, ‘Die Friedlosigkeit bei den Angelsachen’, pp. 17-37. 7 Goebel, Felony and Misdemeanor, pp. 419-420 (note 289). 8 Goebel, Felony and Misdemeanor, pp. 14-16. 9 For examples of the more traditional characterization, see von Jhering, L’Esprit du droit Romain, pp. 282-284; and Agamben, Homo sacer, pp. 116-123. For newer viewpoints, see van Houts, ‘The Vocabulary of Exile and Outlawry’, pp. 13-28; Jones, Outlawry in Medieval Literature, pp. 18-19; and Carella, ‘The Earliest Expression for Outlawry in Anglo-Saxon Law’, pp. 111-144.



Labeling an individual from seventh-century Mercia an outlaw does not mean the same thing as describing someone from Cnut’s England as such; the difficulty is compounded when one brings the legal concepts of other cultures, such as the Irish and the Icelanders, into play. The inability of the modern term outlaw to distinguish between these historical and cultural variations is only one aspect of the word’s problematic breadth. As Goebel recognized, outlawry can encompass a number of situations that have little in common – is the ‘outlaw’ in question a fugitive from justice, or an individual who has been formally banned? Has the guarantee of their personal safety been revoked, or a bounty placed on their head? Need they only leave the jurisdiction, or can they not feel safe anywhere? Has their property been forfeit? These are important distinctions – especially to the outlaw! – but ones that are not conveyed by the blanket term outlawry. The ways in which outlawry, as it was understood both then and now, converges and diverges with the concept of exile is especially tricky to delineate, as we shall see in Chapter 1. On top of all this is the fact that outlaw also exists as a label absent any actual legal concept. Take, for instance, the identity of the fénnid in Irish tradition. As far as can be surmised, historically and in most contexts, the fénnid can be understood as an Irish expression of the outlaw. The fénnidi were young men estranged from their societies who preyed upon the communities whose margins they prowled.10 Yet the literary figure Finn MacCumaill and his men, though fénnidi, do not typically fit this description. They more frequently act as a roving militia in support, or in tandem, with regional kings and their forces. While they are often in conflict with the powers of the establishment, these disputes are depicted more as occurring between two institutionally legitimate groups rather than the law prosecuting known criminals.11 Through the development of the Finn Cycle, the concept of the fénnid seems to have evolved beyond its historical roots. Yet even the historical roots of the fénnidi are beyond the legal definition of outlawry. The real-life fíana (troops of fénnidi; sg. fían) were composed of aristocratic young men, who would normally return to their societies after a few years of roving.12 There seems to have been nothing other than age that instigated their entrance into or exit from the fían – no crime, no time 10 Nagy, The Wisdom of the Outlaw, 43-45; and McCone, ‘Werewolves, Cyclopes, Díberga, and Fíanna’, pp. 5-6. 11 The complex relationship between the túath and the fían is outlined at length in Nagy, The Wisdom of the Outlaw, pp. 41-79. 12 McCone, ‘Werewolves, Cyclopes, Díberga, and Fíanna’, p. 13.

Introduction: The Hermit and the Outlaw


served, no royal pardon.13 The depiction points to a broader understanding of outlawry than the strictly legal definition can provide. And as we will see, this dilemma arises not only when we consider early Irish society. Anglo-Saxon England and medieval Iceland, also, too, have traditions and practices that appear to be modeled after outlawry without in fact being such in legal or practical actuality. Much of this book is focused on these more ambiguous examples, which I will describe as pseudo-outlawry. Incidences of pseudo-outlawry are particularly useful for this project in that they demonstrate most clearly what concepts or associations come to adhere to the idea of outlawry beyond the legal definition. The most prevalent appears to be an outsider status understood more broadly than strict outlawry can convey. With regards to the fíana, it is a more expansive – and therefore more applicable – concept of liminality which is the crucial component of their pseudo-outlawry. As Joseph Nagy has outlined at length, the comprehensive marginality of the fénnidi allows them to act as complements to structured society. The fíana supply an outside perspective, and provide an appropriately disorganized space for the transitions necessary for a properlyfunctioning society to occur.14 It is this unstable marginal existence that ties pseudo-outlawry to outlawry proper, and it is that quality moreover which pseudo-outlawry is attempting to capture in its imitation of legal outlawry.

Outlawry, Mobility, and the Middle Ages The marginality of the outlaw goes hand-in-hand with their perceived instability. Operating at the boundaries, the outlaw has no set home. Pursuit, and the requirements of living off the land, make constant movement necessary. That mobility, in turn, was commonly taken to reflect the internal state of the outlaw – the turmoil of their life was indicative of the turmoil of their soul or mind. In movement, then, too, we have another broad concept, but one that is unified in the necessity of liminality in its definition. Movement requires a point A and a point B, and a space between them, however short. It is that in-between-ness, the uncertainty of transition from one state to another, that animates concern over mobility in both physical and abstract senses. Change may be necessary, but it is often uncomfortable 13 This is in contrast, again, to the Finn Cycle, where membership in a fían appears to be a lifetime appointment, and fíana can contain youths, adults, and the elderly, including members of the same family from several generations. 14 Nagy, The Wisdom of the Outlaw, pp. 78-79.



and undesired, especially to those content with the status quo. It is also uncertain. One may have a destination in mind, but what if one loses their way in the in-between, within that ‘sphere of possibility’?15 One could end up somewhere completely different, or as someone completely different. And those who reside in the boundary are lost, wandering in error or possessing an intolerable hybridity of identity or intent. Physical or mental liminality – crossing over boundaries, between bodies of land, switching from one identity to another, reevaluating one’s belief – is therefore often depicted with suspicion. And figures who continually engage in movement, who exist, feel comfortable, and/or thrive in the liminal, are regarded with both revulsion and fascination. The list is large of individuals in the early Middle Ages who fit this description to one degree or another, but none embodied the idea of liminality more so than outlaws and those who sought to emulate them. These (often unspoken) associations color considerations not just of outlawry but of mobility more generally. Medieval authorities frequently inveighed against the mobile life as a type of spiritual rootlessness, and attempted to promote sedentariness, and, by extension, stability. It is easy to conclude from such sources that the Middle Ages saw no benefit whatsoever in movement or travel, and it happens therefore that modern scholars sometimes confuse the existence of the outlaw with the existence of the mass of medieval travelers as a whole. Lewis Mumford, for example, describes the outlaw’s plight as a loss of identity borne out of displacement: The unattached individual during the Middle Ages was one condemned either to excommunication or exile: close to death. To exist one had to belong to an association – a household, manor, monastery, or guild. There was no security except through group protection and no freedom that did not recognize the constant obligation of a corporate life. One lived and died in the identifiable style of one’s class and one’s corporation.16

Tim Cresswell takes Mumford’s observation and applies it to all those in motion in the Middle Ages. ‘For all but a small minority’, he claims, ‘to be mobile in the Middle Ages was to be without place, both socially and geographically’.17 Yet it is not hard to imagine medieval individuals or groups 15 Massey, For Space, p. 10. I am taking the term ‘in-between-ness’ from Seigworth and Gregg, ‘An Inventory of Shimmers’, p. 1. 16 Mumford, The City in History, p. 269. 17 Cresswell, On the Move, p. 11.

Introduction: The Hermit and the Outlaw


who retained their places in life’s corporation while being on the move: a roving court, a clerk on church business, a pilgrim. The discrepancy between the reputation of mobility and its reality in both medieval and modern writing, and the tension that engenders, is a primary topic of this book. On one hand, a state of mobility is seen as dangerous and its practitioners disreputable. On the other, mobility is also associated with progress.18 This is especially the case today, but even in the Middle Ages one can find acknowledgements that liminality is desirable, and even that a certain personal adaptability and willingness to take risks is needed in both a healthy society and a well-adjusted person. This is the logic underlying acts of pseudo-outlawry, that they make certain talents attainable or transformations possible to those who would otherwise miss out in their current physical or mental stasis. Nevertheless, modern scholars often deploy the dichotomy of the sedentary (and therefore stagnant) Middle Ages and the mobile (and therefore dynamic) modern era. This can be seen in how medieval transience, as it is perceived, is often taken to reflect discarded or discredited philosophies. Leslie Dale Feldman sees rootedness as a necessary consequence of feudalism, as it ‘was based on personal ties of hierarchy, land ownership, and status and loyalty was to people based on their placed [sic] in the Chain of Being. In such a society, movement was not encouraged because loyalty was based on who you were and who you affiliated yourself with’.19 Zygmunt Bauman, in contrast, sees immobility as crucial to security in the premodern world, as the available means of production and security […] reacted badly to an extension of their social space. By their very nature, they could only be operated in a small group, on a relatively confined territory. They were also geared to a relatively stable setting, where points of reference, the other partners in the solid network of solidary relations, stay fixed over a protracted stretch of time – a period long enough to learn their mutual rights and duties, develop obligations, be put to the effectivity and reliability tests.20

All of these interpretations posit a fundamental difference between the medieval and modern world, often with the implication that the modern represents improvement. Of course, this view of the medieval era is as 18 Cresswell, On the Move, p. 37. 19 Feldman, Freedom as Motion, p. 40. 20 Bauman, Legislators and Interpreters, p. 39. See also Tim Cresswell, On the Move, pp. 10-12.



old as the concept of the Three Ages itself, when Antiquity was declared reborn and the intermediate period held up as the antithesis to the others. 21 These assumptions underlie much discussion of medieval travel, sometimes explicitly, as when Jean Verdon writes, ‘le Moyen Âge semble un temps de stagnation entre l’Antiquité et ses arpenteurs du monde, mythiques comme Ulysse ou réels comme les Phéniciens, et la Renaissance avec les grandes découvertes’22 (‘The Middle Ages appears [to have been] a time of stagnation between Antiquity and its world explorers, mythic like Ulysses or actual like the Phoenicians, and the Renaissance with its great discoveries’). There is some variation among the sources as to the significance of medieval immobility – did it demonstrate a reliance on hierarchy, the value of predictability, or simply ‘stagnation’? – but in all cases, it is assumed to be detrimental. Verdon’s immediate comment after his verdict on the Middle Ages as ‘un temps de stagnation’ is ‘Pourtant, le Moyen Age est un monde qui n’arrête pas de bouger’23 (‘However, the Middle Ages was a world which never ceased movement’). Because of course people moved in the Middle Ages, for commerce, governance, diplomacy, pilgrimage, and any number of other reasons. In some cases, scholars make further distinctions. Feldman acknowledges the travel that occurred and singles out the pilgrimage for special consideration, as ‘pilgrimages, like the city, were equalizing. They brought together all strata of society and helped break down the static feudal social system’.24 Given that Feldman sees immobility as the lynchpin to feudalism, and given the extent of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages, this is no small exception. Yet Feldman dismisses the pilgrimage as ‘uncreative’, as it had a set destination and no detours were countenanced. Under such strictures, there is no chance to work creatively, challenge assumptions, or make merry with chaos, as Geoffrey Chaucer and his pilgrims can attest. The reputation of the Anglo-Saxons has particularly suffered under this misapprehension. A depiction of the Anglo-Saxons as fruitlessly stationary must, by necessity, ignore historical realities, not least of which is their famous immigration to Britain. This is an identity which some commentators feel they never fully gave up.25 Moreover, after this mass migration, the 21 This construction goes all the way back to Leonardo Bruni in 1442, but has been remarkably resilient. Hankins, Introduction, pp. xvii-xviii. A good examination of its most current permutations can be seen in Davis, ‘Time Behind the Veil’, pp. 105-122. 22 Verdon, Voyager au Moyen Age, p. 15. 23 Verdon, Voyager au Moyen Age, p. 15. 24 Feldman, Freedom as Motion, p. 44. 25 Howe, Migration and Mythmaking in Anglo-Saxon England, pp. 8-32.

Introduction: The Hermit and the Outlaw


Anglo-Saxons fostered strong ties and engaged in busy traffic between their kingdoms and other polities, so much so that one Irish writer stereotyped them as the ‘Saxon snámhach’ (‘seafaring Saxons’).26 The most extensive activity lay across the English Channel, as it was the Continent’s older, more established, and more materially rich cultures to which Anglo-Saxon England most often turned for goods, ideas on governance, and guidance in religion. Anglo-Saxon pilgrims visited Rome and beyond, churchmen went for investiture and to obtain relics, texts and art for their houses of worship, and kings retired there to monasteries after their reigns. Basing his tally on extant sources, Stephen Matthews counts 179 known journeys to Rome between the conversion and 1066.27 There were doubtless more, and this is to only one destination. Cultural contacts with Carolingian France, for example, are known to have been extensive;28 the archaeologists M.O.H. Carver and Stéphane Lebecq argue that the variety of artifacts found in monuments such as the Sutton Hoo ship burial were only achievable with an extensive mercantile network that connected England with cultures from the Mediterranean to the Baltic.29 Despite this, however, scholars quite frequently describe the Anglo-Saxons as categorically tied to place. Many forms of travel occur in a great number of Old English texts. Certain pieces and genres, however, garner greater attention from experts than others. This is due to a whole host of issues, and its effects are not limited to a consideration of mobility. John M. Hill, for example, has identified a similar dynamic at work in the analysis of Anglo-Saxon warrior ethics, wherein broad observations of the sources ‘often stay unpacked and literarily abstract in our presentations of them’. As a result, 26 ‘Two Middle-Irish Poems’, pp. 112-113; and Genealogical Tracts I, p. 24. Ó Raithbheartaigh, the translator of the second piece, follows Meyer in translating snámhach as ‘floating’, but The Dictionary of the Irish Language records several metaphorical meanings of the word that derive from its association with water, both complimentary (‘buoyant’) and derogatory (‘creeping’, ‘cunning’). Given this, it is unlikely that the poet intended snámhach to be neutral, especially since the Saxon snámhach are also credited with dúire (‘obstinacy’) in the same line. That a reputation for voyaging should lend itself equally well to both positive and negative connotations is a crucial observation of this project, one that we can see arising already in our primary works. ‘snámhach’, Dictionary of the Irish Language, p. 552; also supplemented in The Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language. 27 Matthews, The Road to Rome, pp. 61-71. 28 The definitive work on English activity in this sphere is Levison, England and the Continent. 29 Carver, ‘Pre-Viking Traffic in the North Sea’, pp. 117-119; and Lebecq, ‘Communication and Exchange in Northwest Europe’, pp. 170-179. See also Carver, ‘Four Windows on Early Britain’, pp. 1-24.



[M]ost readers treat the elements of the heroic code […] as abstract, common denominators that inevitably generate, somehow all on their own, the often disturbing violence we encounter in these narratives. We then rationalize violence in these worlds as almost ineluctable, as simply dictating heroic life frozen out of time and place.30

A similar process is at work in describing Anglo-Saxon attitudes towards movement, wherein the depiction of the practice in several high-profile works has dominated commentary and that commentary, in turn, has been applied to the whole of the corpus. This is especially the case with elegiac works such as The Wanderer and The Seafarer, which command an outsized portion of attention relative to their representation. Yet their focus is on only a particular type of journey, exile, which does not treat mobility in a favorable light. Nevertheless, scholars examining the elegies often reflect their subjects’ attitudes toward the practice. Jennifer Neville has described the depiction of travel in Anglo-Saxon poetry as ‘unrelentingly negative’.31 Elsewhere, the circumstances those abroad are assumed to require ‘amelioration’,32 as a wayfaring existence must indicate ‘suffering’.33 At times these generalizations on movement dovetail with those on heroics that Hill decries, as the common understanding of the concept of comitatus is used as a justification for negative feelings on uprootedness. Reliance on the reciprocal lord-thane relationship as a local source of prestige is felt to have severely compromised the Anglo-Saxon’s confidence while abroad. As Frank Bessai puts it, ‘When the warrior, dedicated to the ideals of the comitatus, becomes separated from his troop, he lacks as a rule, the subjective resources of ordinary individualism, and his desire to return to the security of the group dominates all’.34 Gwendolyn Morgan echoes these sentiments when she observes that the Anglo-Saxon ‘received his identity from his place in society and the esteem of its members’. Therefore, ‘exile or homelessness was the worst imaginable fate in Anglo-Saxon society, for it deprived the individual of his sense of self’.35 As assessments of mobility as depicted in the elegies, these observations are appropriate. Yet they risk conflating all movement away from society 30 Hill, The Anglo-Saxon Warrior Ethic, pp. 1-3. 31 Neville, ‘“None Shall Pass”’, pp. 203-204. 32 Greenfield and Calder, A New Critical History of Old English Literature, p. 284. 33 Klinck, The Old English Elegies, p. 31. 34 Bessai, ‘Comitatus and Exile in Old English Poetry’, p. 139. 35 Morgan, ‘Essential Loss’, p. 17. See also Greenfield, ‘The Exile-Wanderer in Anglo-Saxon Poetry’, p. 3.

Introduction: The Hermit and the Outlaw


with only those types which are compelled or otherwise unwanted. This is an easy mistake to make. That an attachment to home and subsequent revulsion of the foreign should be one of the most prominent qualities of the Anglo-Saxons is due to the high profile of the elegies in modern scholarship and the array of exiles in the extant poems.36 This prevalence can lead one to defensible conclusions about the priorities of Anglo-Saxon literature or society as a whole. For example, Anita R. Riedinger looks at the literary evidence and concludes, ‘This omnipresent tension between what is – a separation from home – and what is desired – a return to home – enhances the subliminal drama of much Old English poetry’.37 This would be difficult to refute, but only because she qualifies it with ‘much’. The depiction of exile cannot fully articulate the Anglo-Saxons’ opinions on all movement since other types of travel with divergent depictions are also present in the corpus – there one can also find the missionaries Andreas and Elene, soldiers abroad as in The Fight at Finnsburg, professional travelers such as the speaker of Widsith, and adventurers like Beowulf. Their activities point to a wider experience and understanding of mobility in Anglo-Saxon England. Moreover, as this project will demonstrate, the particulars of many exiles are not as negative as they may at first seem, and even real sufferings can be taken positively. It is important to stress that scholars’ focus on the danger and discomfort of the mobile life in the material is a problem of emphasis, not of fact. Land travel was slow and arduous, as the Roman road system fell into disrepair.38 The sea was quicker, but held its own dangers. Unlike the Mediterranean, the shallow waters of the North Sea made sailing along the coast hazardous, which forced travelers to set out on the open ocean and navigate by dead-reckoning. Despite the fact that necessity made North Atlantic seafarers better at it, this type of sailing was inherently dangerous. Harsh weather, too, made sailing in winter even more perilous, so much so that travel generally stopped in the colder months, especially further north, where the encroachment of sea ice created additional hazards and had the capacity to freeze ports.39 Nevertheless, as Jonathan M. Wooding notes, ‘the will and ability of mariners to sail over long distances, through

36 Riedinger, ‘“Home” in Old English Poetry’, p. 52. 37 Riedinger, ‘“Home” in Old English Poetry’, p. 53. 38 Stenton, ‘The Road System of Medieval England’, pp. 1-4; and Margary, Roman Roads in Britain, pp. 22-24. 39 Marcus, ‘The Norse Traffic with Iceland’, p. 412; Carver, ‘Pre-Viking Traffic in the North Sea’, pp. 119-122; McGrail, Ancient Boats in N.W. Europe, pp. 258-274; Wooding, Communication and Commerce along the Western Sealanes, pp. 7 and 16-18; and Byock, Viking Age Iceland, p. 266.



forbidding conditions, is easily underestimated’ by modern observers, 40 and evidence that travel was difficult is not evidence that it was done only reluctantly. Indeed, in many early medieval conceptions of abandoning one’s place, hardship was precisely the point of the exercise. To enrich the home community, spread ideas, and save the soul, a degree of sacrifice was most often assumed. After all, without risk there was no reward, without adversity nothing earned, and without punishment no true penance. The overall attitude towards mobility as presented in the sources, then, is an active ambivalence that often references good and bad in the same breath. Identifying the particulars of this conception of mobility is the primary goal of this project, to trace the opposing forces which led those in the North Atlantic to both value and distrust mobility in equal terms, whether engaging in it themselves or considering its effects upon their existence. Opinions of movement are often expressed in depictions of outlaws and other figures moving across boundaries, which reflect the same ambivalence – are they a benefit to their communities, or a threat? The danger of travel was inextricable from the perception of the traveler, as Simone Pinet observes: The idea of travel itself entailed a sort of marginalization, or at least the risk of marginalization, as the traveler abandoned the community to engage in a reality plagued with the new, another word for the different […] Those who engaged in travel were suspicious, for they would willingly expose themselves to the dangers inherent therein. 41

Mobility was therefore a double hazard, as a separation from home placed one in danger yet also made one a danger in the minds of others. Yet aside from pursuing complete self-sufficiency and isolation, it was necessary for a society to have its members who faced the liminal and engaged with the outside world. Just as there had to be individuals who took the risk and went abroad, so did the society itself have to chance the destabilizing effects of movement. Outlaws and those like them were the most potent and reliable sources of such instability. This may be why modern scholars often associate them with the entirety of medieval travelers, since they so clearly display the qualities of movement; it also explains the ambivalence with which outlaws are treated in the sources.

40 Wooding, Communication and Commerce along the Western Sealanes, p. 16. 41 Pinet, Archipelagoes, p. xxiii. See also Coote, ‘Journeys to the Edge’, p. 60.

Introduction: The Hermit and the Outlaw


Transgression and Conduct Whatever reservations may exist about mobility, its sheer necessity and omnipresence make it a cornerstone of nearly all societies. Throughout the history of English culture, the extent to which the experience of movement is assumed to be universally understood can be seen in its language. In English and Latin, the imagery of transition from place to place dominates symbolism of the abstract – Michael J. Reddy maintains that the diffuseness of the idea and its possible variations cannot allow a full accounting.42 Examples of what he has termed the ‘conduit metaphor’ are scattered throughout language. Ideas are conveyed, judgments borne, motions carried. The mind can wander, be led astray, its inspirations become manifest. We can feel moved. This is the way we speak, and it is more difficult to avoid resorting to one of these constructions than to simply stumble upon one. If one turns to Latin one finds even further examples and even more extensive influence. The list is even larger when we include words like, well, influence (from fluere, ‘to flow’), that are derived from Latin verbs of motion. There are err and error (from errare, ‘to stray’); deviate and devious (both from de viam, ‘[to move] from the way’); converge and diverge (from vergere, ‘to turn’); and excite and incite (from ciere, ‘to set in motion’). The verb vertere (‘to turn’) gives us the means to discuss both the convert and the pervert, who have the capacity to revert, divert, avert, invert, or subvert our thoughts. Venire (‘to come’) allows us to speak of the provenance of society’s conventions. Gradior (‘to step’) through its declensions expresses in English acts of communion (congress) and provocation (transgression), advancement (progress) and devolution (regression). Of course, both advancement and devolution also suggest motion, as the implications of advance in modern English are obvious and the root of devolution is the Latin verb volvere (‘to roll’). Portare (‘to carry’) allows one to comport, report, or support what’s important. Ferre (also ‘to carry’) enables the expression of such basic notions as to transfer, confer, defer, refer, infer, differ, interfere, offer, prefer, or suffer; its anomalous supine form latum bequeaths such unexpected but crucial concepts of communication as translate (literally ‘to carry across’) and relate (‘to carry back’). If one induces, adduces or deduces, he or she expresses a mental process by conceiving it as a matter of ducere (‘to lead’). Out of this myriad of motion-derived terms are two which I single out for special usage and consideration in this project: transgression and conduct. I have already alluded to the import of transgression above in outlining 42 Reddy, ‘The Conduit Metaphor’, p. 177.



the perceived threat of outlaws to communities, but the modern connotation of the word reflects this bias also: meaning literally ‘to step across’, transgression immediately conveys to the English speaker a disregard for convention and/or a breach of protocol. As we shall see, this extended meaning has an extensive pedigree, as boundary-crossing has long been tied to less concrete types of waywardness. This is especially the case when boundaries mark the frontier between separate, possibly hostile, cultures, as the surviving phrases ‘beyond the pale’ or ‘off the reservation’ attest. The importance of transgression as a concept has been raised by geographer Tim Cresswell – who explores the intersection of actual and abstract notions of ‘place’, as in ‘knowing one’s place’ – to examine the assumptions that attach to locations and the consequences for rethinking those assumptions. In such instances the paradoxical nature of movement comes to the fore. ‘Mobility’, Cresswell observes, ‘is connected to civilization, progress, and freedom as well as deviance and destitution’. 43 It is also related to power, as to wield the fruits of travel is to be able to shape a society. Outside interaction brings with it exotic goods and esoteric knowledge, which the elites within a society control. As Mary W. Helms observes, ‘places, peoples, creatures, and material items from the world “outside” […] can be used directly and concretely to regulate and operate the world “inside”’. 44 The ability to move between is therefore an opportunity to accrue power, and the mover, like the exotica he or she carries, becomes imbued with a certain cachet. 45 Or as Kathy Lavezzo puts it, ‘geographic margins had a certain social authority’. 46 These broad ideas are akin to Pierre Bourdieu’s systems of capital, which figure in this project and were extremely influential to Cresswell’s thinking.47 Those on the move, as transgressors, are catalysts for societal change, both good and bad. Interest in outsiders is primarily concerned with separating them into these two broad categories, but as we have seen, it is impossible to completely extricate the desirable aspects of mobility from its downside.48 Hence, every ‘good’ traveler – a diplomat, a soldier, a missionary – retains the potential for disruption, just as every ‘bad’ – a fugitive, an invader, a vagrant – holds some allure. All of these f igures, on account of their movements, are change agents, capable of transforming their destinations, 43 Cresswell, On the Move, p. 37. 44 Helms, Ulysses’ Sail, p. 49. 45 Helms, Ulysses’ Sail, p. 79. 46 Lavezzo, Angels on the Edge of the World, p. 7. 47 See pp. 47-50. 48 Peter Suedfeld makes this observation about communities’ ordeals more broadly in ‘Reactions to Societal Trauma: Distress and/or Eustress’, pp. 849-861.

Introduction: The Hermit and the Outlaw


their societies, and themselves in fundamental ways. The most instructive examples, however, are the outlaws, figures who never venture far from the boundary, both geographically and in terms of behavior. The power inherent to mobility touches all those in early medieval literature who choose it, no matter what their particular circumstances or the approval or opprobrium they attract – yet it is in the figure of the outlaw that these issues are thrown into greatest relief. These liminal beings combine both the positive and negative attributes in such a way as to make maintaining the binary between beneficial and detrimental movement impossible. Within outlawry and the tropes it inspired, we find such paradoxes as the exile whose independence allows him to be a hero, the criminal who converts his estrangement from society into the solitude of hermitage, and the warrior whose superhuman abilities make him both a monster and a savior. The danger and allure of such figures have been extensively studied not just by Cresswell and Bourdieu, but also by scholars such as Victor Turner and Gloria Anzaldúa, who all speak to the dual nature ascribed to those on the borders – characterizing both sides, but never fully part of both. 49 The dynamic has been examined in Irish literature as well, particularly by Nagy,50 and post-colonial theory has also done its part to untangle the complicated feelings surrounding those on the frontier. William Scott Green argues that a society’s consideration of those on its borders ‘can reshape the […] society’s picture of itself, expose its points of vulnerability, and spark in it awareness of, or reflection about, the possibility or the reality of otherness within’.51 By complicating the dichotomies of inside/outside or self/other, these scholars introduce a way to understand the position of the outsider in society. If those beyond the border offer an uncomfortable potential through their difference, then the border-dweller represents that potential made actual, and motion across (transgression) the process by which that change was effected. No matter what the reality or the reason for movement, the mover has become exoticized through association with other cultures. Association with him or her in turn risks both improving and/or tainting the self – too easy an acceptance of the traveler allows the foreign element greater opportunity to alter what makes that society distinct; too stringent a safeguard keeps out the best of other cultures that could strengthen the home community. Yet with the acknowledgement that it is often difficult 49 Turner, The Ritual Process; and Anzaldúa, Borderlands/ La Frontera. 50 Liminality is primarily where the outlaw receives his wisdom in Wisdom of the Outlaw. See also Nagy, Conversing with Angels and Ancients, pp. 287-323. 51 Green, ‘Otherness Within’, p. 50.



to discern the value or threat inherent in any given outsider, and that most offer at best a combination of these two, the challenge for those considering them in our medieval sources is how to determine the quality of a mover or of an act of motion. The means by which medieval works indicated the worthiness of acts of mobility is through depicting the movers’ conduct. In conduct, too, one can see the ability of motion to convey both a physical and an abstract sense. The word, in modern English, means not just one’s method of travel but (even more commonly) one’s behavior, and it is in both senses that I employ it here. It is a word not present in the early medieval North Atlantic – adopted from Latin via French, its presence in the language is not attested until the Middle English period.52 Nevertheless, as a metaphor it is heir to an association present among the Anglo-Saxons and their neighbors at that time expressed in words tasked with the same function. The Latin via, Old English weg, Old Norse vegr, and Old Irish dul are all equivalent to the Modern English conduct in how they relate to both movement and behavior.53 In the works which are featured here, the metaphor operates through stories of journeys which symbolize the moral health of the traveler. Good movement represents good conduct, while disastrous actions indicate poor judgment or disobedience towards God. While the basic principle appears simple, ethical living is often anything but. Consequently, the metaphor of conduct, as shall be seen, appears in numerous permutations in early medieval literature, most of which explore the complications inherent to choosing the right path. The value of this in assessing transgressors is apparent. By judging the conduct of such difficult figures, one better learns how to pursue moral living and distinguish worthy companions. And all this is accomplished through a consideration of movement.

The North Atlantic Sea of Islands Academic consideration of movement across space is currently undergoing a re-evaluation, an activity that has recently intersected with the new fields of island and archipelagic studies.54 This has obvious implications for the 52 ‘conduct, n.1’. OED Online. 53 ‘via’, A Latin Dictionary, p. 1984; ‘weg’, An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, p. 1183; ‘vegr’, Cleasby, An Icelandic-English Dictionary, pp. 689-690; and ‘dul’, Dictionary of the Irish Language, pp. 444-446. 54 Massey, For Space, pp. 9-15; The Spaces of Democracy and the Democracy of Space Network, ‘What are the consequences of the “spatial turn”’, pp. 579-586; and Pugh, ‘Island Movements’, pp. 12-14.

Introduction: The Hermit and the Outlaw


literatures of the North Sea, which were shaped by their geographical reality as a collection of landmasses surrounded by water. Islands and island groupings are seen as fruitful settings for spatial theory due to the multiple forms of liminality they explicitly display. There is, for example, the shore, which gives the immediate impression of a hard dichotomy between the land and the water but then troubles this division with its mutability. According to Jane Ledwell, it is ‘a place of uncertainty and instability […] visibly a movable, shifting space, geologically and morphologically changeable due to shifting dunes, eroding cliffs, vicissitudes of wind and weather, and changing tides’.55 The changeable environment influences behavior, as ‘island boundaries invite transgression; inspire restlessness; demand to be breached; impel islanders “to explore and even to escape into the unknown”’.56 Spurred on to such acts, island inhabitants have a ready site upon which to make their move: the sea. Movement and liminality are certainly possible without the ocean – this work will consider many such examples – but in its expanse, volatility, and alterity, the sea is a liminal space with enormous metaphorical and narrative potential. The waters, the space between the islands and the site of transition, are comprised ‘of connections’ rather than united, like the land, ‘by connections’ – connectivity, in other words, is the ocean’s very being rather than subsidiary to it.57 Archipelagos, therefore, which offer both abundance and variation of shore and sea, are ‘in the midst of in-between-ness’.58As such, they are the perfect environment to observe the effect of the liminal. The core conceptual understanding of the archipelago, as Pinet frames it, is ‘unity in diversity’, as islands, conceptually at least, neatly circumscribe populations by their coastlines, while the close collection of these insular worlds encourages fellow-feeling and a shared experience within a wider system.59 The paradox can be seen operating in the common comparison of the island of Britain as a garden, which Lynn Staley observes can be either walled or accessible to those outside, depending on the predilections of the author.60 Yet it is always enclosed, as the medieval inhabitants of the North 55 Ledwell, ‘Afraid of Heights, Not Edges’, p. 4. See also Beer, ‘Island Bounds’, p. 33. 56 Hay, ‘A Phenomenology of Islands’, p. 23. Included is Hay’s quotation of Anderson, ‘Norfolk Island’, p. 47. 57 Steinberg, ‘Of Other Seas’, pp. 157-158. See also Massey’s description of space as ‘a product of interrelations’. For Space, p. 10. 58 Seigworth and Gregg, ‘An Inventory of Shimmers’, p. 1. See also Stratford, ‘Envisioning the Archipelago’, p. 114, in applying this idea to island studies. 59 See Pinet, Archipelagoes, pp. 67-70, with the quote on p. 69. 60 Staley, The Island Garden, pp. 15-51.



Atlantic often traced their identities along the same lines as their natural boundaries. As a practical matter, Ireland was never unified politically in the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, its potential – and perhaps rightness – as such was reflected in the aspirational title of ard rí, the high-king of Ireland, who was meant to rule over the entire island.61 Though men in the medieval era were named ard rí, their overlordship remained more theoretical than actual, as was the supposed hegemony of legendary aird ríg such as Conn Cétchathach or Niall Noígíallach. A similar impulse to declare an island empire can be seen in the bretwalda (‘ruler of Britain’ or ‘wide-ruler’), the term which the A text of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle applies to Bede’s list of early Anglo-Saxon kings whose power extended to all or most of Britain.62 Ethnicity was often defined by the contours of the island as well. Despite their political disunity, the Irish had separate terms for outsiders from within Ireland and those from without: ambue and deorad, and cú glas and muirchuirthe, respectively.63 Icelanders understood themselves as culturally distinct from the rest of the Norse world, their independent streak preserved by the remote island which served as the refuge of Norwegian nobility unwilling to live under the confines of a king. This identity, moreover, preemptively discounted the contribution of other ethnicities, such as the Irish and other Celts.64 Yet the ‘boundedness’ of islands, as Patrick V. Kirch notes, can too often be mistaken for ‘closure’.65 As James L. Smith puts it another way, ‘The ocean participates in the dual reinforcement and disregard of insularity’.66 While the island’s envelopment by the sea implies integrity, an archipelagic setting emphasizes connectivity as ‘a maritime network of unceasing interaction, shared experience, and cultural interchange’.67 It was a region segmented 61 For a considered take on the early Irish conception of themselves as a single people despite political fragmentation, see Ó Corráin, ‘Nationality and Kingship in Pre-Norman Ireland’, pp. 1-35. 62 Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, pp. 148-151; and The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, MS A, p. 42. For the significance of this term, see John, ‘“Orbis Britanniae” and the Anglo-Saxon Kings’, pp. 6-13; Wormald, ‘Bede, the Bretwaldas and the Origins of the Gens Anglorum’, pp. 99129; Fanning, ‘Bede, Imperium, and the Bretwaldas’, pp. 1-26; and Harris, Race and Ethnicity in Anglo-Saxon Literature, p. 62. 63 Charles-Edwards, ‘The Social Background to Irish Peregrinatio’, pp. 97-100. See also Kelly, A Guide to Early Irish Law, pp. 5-6. For the potential significance of cú glas specifically, see Siewers, ‘Desert Islands’, pp. 44-48. 64 O’Donoghue, Old Norse-Icelandic Literature, pp. 20-21. 65 Kirch, ‘Introduction’, p. 2. See also Rainbird, ‘Islands Out of Time’, pp. 216-234. 66 Smith, ‘Brendan Meets Columbus’, p. 528. 67 Cohen, describing the work of Cunliffe (see note 83). ‘Introduction: Infinite Realms’, p. 4; see also Clark, ‘The Ballad Dance of the Faeroese’, p. 288.

Introduction: The Hermit and the Outlaw


by numerous natural, political and ethnic boundaries that distinguished itself through its borders’ eminent superability and the easy exchange of all its cultures. Comprehending this paradox requires acknowledging the potential for boundaries to empower precisely because of their delimiting ability. As Roland Greene describes it, Islands make possible the observation of their own constructedness, and the constructedness of other measures of the world, because they enforce a certain clarity: they have def inable borders, they are conceptually autonomous from the world at large, and they encourage attention to the conditions of indigeneity and importation.68

Greene’s short explanation points to several means by which an island existence shapes perception. There is, as we’ve seen, the illusion of autonomy conferred by an encompassing ocean boundary. The sea may in fact be easy to cross, but in circumscribing a landmass it makes it easy to conceive of the island as separate and different – both by its inhabitants and outsiders. This is due to the reality of that boundary, which is ‘definable’ in a way most man-made borders are not. Offa may have dug a dyke to separate the Mercians from the Britons, but even a prominent marker such as this could be easily violated. In time Anglo-Saxons were settling on the western side of the Dyke; meanwhile no one was building houses upon the sea.69 And so while islands encourage one towards dichotomous thinking – inside vs. outside, native vs. foreign – they also subvert most of the standards by which these conditions are determined. When the Irish categorized foreigners by a simple set of criteria – from inside Ireland or without? – they called into question whether further specificity held any meaningful distinction. An island perspective ‘counters the totalities of institutions and regimes’ by revealing the artifice that perpetuates them by disguising their ‘constructedness’.70 Meanwhile, island living punctuates that critique by demonstrating the superability of the ultimate barrier, the sea, through travel. Insular thinking is anything but. The worldview fostered by life on an island within the archipelago of the North Atlantic was therefore one that welcomed outside influence in 68 Greene, ‘Island Logic’, p. 140. 69 Estes makes the same observation in Anglo-Saxon Literary Landscapes, p. 35. For Anglo-Saxon settlement west of the Dyke, see Manley, ‘Cledemutha: A Late Saxon Burh in North Wales’, pp. 13-46; and Hill, ‘Mercians: The Dwellers on the Boundary’, pp. 173-182. 70 Greene, ‘Island Logic’, p. 138.



part because it was skeptical of any absolute claim of what the ‘outside’ was.71 Islands, since they were unconnected to any land, could only be approached, and so every island culture in the North Atlantic maintained a narrative of their advent.72 In all cases they had supplanted people who were there before;73 why then should they think any differently of even later arrivals? And if approach was natural, what difficulty was it to leave and cross another meaningless boundary? What of the other invisible boundaries that governed behavior and custom but could just as easily be transgressed?74 Of course, every action had its consequences, positive and negative, but in understanding the ineffectiveness of limits, those of the North Atlantic instead dealt with managing the effects of mobility rather than fearing them. The treatment of transient figures in their literature is simply a facet of this openness and pragmatism. The idea of early medieval cultures, and Anglo-Saxon England in particular, as being open to the outside world works against the frequent characterization of this time and place as provincial and inward-looking. Fabienne Michelet, for example, sees a pervasive fear of invasion as a defining trait of Anglo-Saxon society, which she claims saw the world in binary terms of ‘inside/outside’.75 Neville argues that the Anglo-Saxons consistently denigrated foreigners, depicting them almost always as invaders.76 This assessment is too harsh – Nicholas Howe, in contrast, makes precisely the 71 For a brief history of the North Sea as an archipelago, see Hiatt, ‘From Pliny to Brexit’, pp. 511-526. 72 The definitive account of the Anglo-Saxon migrations for them was Bede, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, pp. 46-53; for the Irish, see Lebor Gabála Érenn, pp. 1-135; for the Icelanders, see the Landnámabók. The British, too, are characterized as interlopers in the later History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth (pp. 6-31). 73 The Anglo-Saxons displaced the British, which is well-known. The Icelanders recorded evidence of Irish monks on their island prior to their coming, although whether there was direct contact varies according to the sources. Landnámabók, pp. 31-32; and Ari Þorgilsson, Íslendingabók, p. 5. As for the Irish themselves, their history Lebor Gabála Érenn lives up to its name, The Book of the Taking of Ireland. The work records successive waves of people battling the island’s inhabitants and claiming it as their own, culminating in the arrival of the Sons of Míl, the ancestors of the Irish. The entire work ranges over vols. 34, 35, 39, 41 and 44 of the Irish Texts Society series, with a new introduction by John Carey in the 1993 edition which gives useful background (pp. 1-20). See also Rees and Rees, Celtic Heritage, pp. 95-117. The British, too, are depicted as wresting the island away from a race of giants in Geoffrey of Monmouth, The History of the Kings of Britain, pp. 26-29. 74 Gillian Beer, for example, explores how the unboundedness of islands calls into question the divide between human and animal. ‘Island Bounds’, pp. 32-42. 75 Michelet, Creation, Migration, and Conquest, pp. 23-24. 76 Neville, ‘“None Shall Pass”’, pp. 203-204.

Introduction: The Hermit and the Outlaw


opposite argument, claiming that the Anglo-Saxons held a ‘generously expansive view’ of foreigners, seeing as the majority of their literary heroes were nonnative.77 Staley similarly identifies within Bede’s Ecclesiastical History a spirit of openness directly related to the multicultural environment of seventh-century Britain.78 The diversity of the region was, after all, its reality. The Anglo-Saxons, like all North Sea peoples, were well-acclimated to the archipelago’s challenges and had early on developed the means by which to traverse its waters; they all knew the character of the Atlantic littoral and this commonality made exchange between its inhabitants all the easier. Epeli Hau’ofa, in considering challenges facing the indigenous cultures of modern Oceania, encourages them to think of their world not as ‘islands in the sea’ but as ‘a sea of islands’. The distinction between the two, as Hau’ofa sees it, is in whether one imagines the ocean as preventing or facilitating connections with the outside world. Those who live lives dominated by land – the ‘continental peoples’ in Hau’ofa terminology, who imposed a rigid colonial mindset upon the Pacific – imagine the sea to be an obstacle. But the people of Oceania (Hau’ofa’s preferred term) know better: The world of our ancestors was a large sea full of places to explore, to make their homes in, to breed generations of seafarers like themselves. People raised in this environment were at home with the sea. They played in it as soon as they could walk steadily, they worked in it, they fought on it. They developed great skills for navigating their waters, and the spirit to traverse even the few gaps that separated their island groups. Theirs was a large world in which peoples and cultures moved and mingled unhindered by boundaries of the kind erected much later by imperial powers. From one island to another they sailed to trade and marry, thereby expanding social networks for greater flow of wealth. They travelled to visit relatives in a wide variety of natural and cultural surroundings, to quench their thirst for adventure, and even to fight and dominate.79

Although it is separated from the postcolonial context in which Hau’ofa offers his remarks, I would suggest that the early medieval North Atlantic would benefit too from being thought of as ‘a sea of islands’, an archipelago 77 Howe, Writing the Map of Anglo-Saxon England, p. 77. 78 Staley, The Island Garden, pp. 19-20. 79 Hau’ofa, ‘Our Sea of Islands’, 7-8. See also Hau’ofa, ‘The Ocean in Us’, pp. 403-406. For a similar argument focused on the Caribbean, see Benítez-Rojo, The Repeating Island, pp. 1-4.



whose geography expanded rather than restricted opportunity.80 Those of the region and period recognized it as such,81 and geographers and historians corroborate them. For the people of the North Atlantic, as Carver puts it, the sea was ‘a thoroughfare rather than an obstacle’.82 Barry Cunliffe declines to understand civilization in this region terrestrially but rather sees the Atlantic basin as its organizing center, with the various shorelines of North America, Europe, and North Africa arranged at its extremes, somewhat similar in concept to the modern Pacific Rim.83 In the Atlantic region arranged around the North Sea, one can see the people of the early Middle Ages utilizing its sealanes in ways that appear counterintuitive but only for those bound to land-based solutions to dilemmas of travel. Take, for example, the proposed route taken by emissaries of the allied Norse settlements of Dublin and York in the tenth century – not around the Orkneys and Hebrides or around the entirety of southern Britain, but rather more directly up the inlets of the Firths of Clyde and Forth, with only a twenty-mile portage between their inland extremities.84 As Barbara E. Crawford notes, such a route, which transitions several times from land to sea with apparent ease and evinces no distinction between them, is unlikely to occur ‘to the average land-based historian’. Yet she reminds her audience that ‘the kings of Dublin were really sea kings’, their realms centered upon the water they controlled rather than the land.85 Reorienting one’s perspective to see the ocean as primary, touching upon every one of the disparate island cultures of the North Atlantic, one comes closer to appreciating the region’s surroundings as its people saw it, with the sea as a conduit rather than an obstacle. Doing so makes it all the easier to treat any one of these societies, Anglo-Saxon England included, as deeply involved in the cultures nearby rather than isolated by its coastline.86 Since commonality between the cultures was borne out of movement among them, it is not surprising that one of the things shared was a literary 80 Matthew Boyd Goldie has already brought Hau’ofa into conversation with premodern literature, with certain caveats. ‘Island Theory: The Antipodes’, pp. 7-11. 81 Bede, De natura rerum liber, pp. 276; and Pseudo-Augustine, De ordine creaturarum liber, p. 936. At the time the latter was published, the work was thought to be that of Isidore of Seville; now it is attributed to the anonymous Irish Pseudo-Augustine. See Hudson, ‘Prologue’, pp. 5-6. 82 Carver, ‘Pre-Viking Traffic in the North Sea’, p. 119. See also Terrell, ‘Islands in the River of Time’, p. 11. 83 See Cunliffe, Facing the Ocean, pp. 19-63, especially the maps on pp. 20 and 35. 84 Smyth, Scandinavian York and Dublin, I, p. 22; Woolf, however, objects, although she suggests another route which combines land and sea as well. From Pictland to Alba, 789-1070, p. 110. 85 Crawford, Scandinavian Scotland, p. 26. 86 Studies which do this include Wright, The Irish Tradition in Old English Literature; Frank, ‘North Sea Soundings in Andreas’, pp. 1-11; and Carver, ‘Four Windows on Early Britain’, pp. 1-24.

Introduction: The Hermit and the Outlaw


preoccupation with the same. For this reason, while the Anglo-Saxons garner the greatest attention in this project, the perspectives of the Irish and the Icelanders represent a crucial component, each appearing periodically throughout and receiving a chapter that examines an aspect of their approach to movement, outlawry, and liminality. In considering early medieval England’s relation with the outside world, the inclusion of these two cultures is a natural expansion on the topic. The Anglo-Saxon era featured a great deal of interaction with both. The Irish were early on the scene, leading evangelization efforts in Northumbria in the sixth century and settling Dál Riata to its north. Their influence persisted until the Viking Age.87 As for the Norse, their explorations in the eighth through tenth centuries that led them to settle Iceland also inaugurated their invasion of England, which culminated in its inclusion in Cnut’s brief North Sea empire. Anglo-Saxons also traveled to Ireland and Iceland. The English monastery of Mayo in Ireland is well-known, the result of the Anglo-Saxon desire for Irish learning.88 Travel to Iceland was less frequent, but still occurred.89 The Irish and the Norse had extensive interaction as well, and so the opportunity for cultural influence between the three cultures was ample.90 As we will see, the three groups also shared the same attitude towards mobility: a healthy appreciation for its benefits as well as respect for its dangers. Additionally, many works among them display a casual attitude towards travel and the cosmopolitanism that accompanies it that quietly signals the ubiquity of the practice in the region. Bede’s history of the English is a chronicle of their constant dialogue with the British and the Irish, and of settlement of the latter in England, and of the English in Ireland.91 Bede reports these moments as history, but does not consider them to be remarkable in and of themselves, as they were common occurrences and 87 Fenn, ‘Irish Sea Influence on the English Church’, pp. 80-84; Hughes, ‘Evidence for Contacts between the Churches of the Irish and the English from the Synod of Whitby to the Viking Age’, pp. 49-67; and Kelly, ‘Irish Influence in England after the Synod of Whitby’, pp. 35-47. 88 Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, pp. 346-349. 89 Examples include an English bishop, Bjarnvarð Vilráðsson, mentioned in Hungrvaka (pp. 6-7), and Bjǫrn the Englishman from Landnámabók (p. 178). There is also a prescription in Grágás for the division of the goods of deceased foreigners that singles out the English, which means that at some point someone had a dead Anglo-Saxon on their hands. See Grágás, p. 229; and Gelsinger, Icelandic Enterprise, pp. 131 and 255 (note 36). 90 The Impact of the Scandinavian Invasions on the Celtic-Speaking Peoples c. 800-1100 A.D.; Sawyer, ‘The Vikings and the Irish Sea’, pp. 86-92; Gísli Sigurðsson, Gaelic Influence in Iceland; Hudson, ‘The Viking and the Irishman’, pp. 257-267; and Etchingham, ‘North Wales, Ireland and the Isles’, pp. 145-187. 91 Bede, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, pp. 116-117, 218-229, 268-277, 294-315 and 346-349.



easily accomplished. Even more nonchalant are the Icelanders, who often treat sailing from their remote homeland and getting along with foreigners as if it were a quick jaunt to the neighbors.92 Both they and the Irish depict sailing off into nowhere as an advised risk rather than dangerously reckless.93 These were people at home with traveling, and with the complications such engagements with the liminal entailed. Yet an effort to bring Irish and Icelandic examples to bear on this project faces two complications that bear some mention. The first is that the AngloSaxons, the Irish, and the Norse were not the only important actors in the early medieval North Atlantic. Also present and active were the indigenous Picts and British, as well as visitors and collaborators from the Christian Latin south. We know as well that many of them had their own forms of outlawry and involvement with the liminal.94 What of them? Any work examining the movement of people in this region at this time would have to take these groups into account. However, something other than just location and period makes the outlaw literatures of Anglo-Saxons, Irish, and Icelanders comparable: their position in regard to the introduction of Christianity at the time of their creation. As Richard Fletcher has noted, conversion to Christianity in Western Europe entailed far more than the acceptance of a new creed: The conversion of ‘barbarian’ Europe to Christianity brought Roman and Mediterranean customs and values and habits of thought to the newcomers who were the legatees of the Roman empire. These included, for example, literacy and books and the Latin language with all that it opened up; Roman notions about law, authority, property and government; the habits of living in towns and using coin for exchange; Mediterranean tastes in food, drink and costume; new architectural and artistic conventions. The Germanic95 successor-states which emerged from the wreckage of the empire […] accepted Christianity and in so doing embraced a cultural totality which was Romanitas, ‘Roman-ness’.96 92 Nearly every saga has an example of this, but one of the more extreme can be found in Laxadæla saga, where Óláf Peacock travels easily to both Norway and Ireland. At the latter destination, he lands precisely where the King of Ireland happens to be traveling, is revealed to be his grandson, and is offered the crown. Laxadæla saga, pp. 50-60. 93 See, for example, Navigatio sancti Brendani, p. 12; and Grœnlendinga saga, pp. 246 and 248-249. 94 Ancient Laws and Institutes of Wales, p. 595; and Jenkins, ‘Crime and Tort & the Three Columns of the Law’, pp. 9 and 15-19. 95 And Celtic, I would add. 96 Fletcher, The Conversion of Europe, p. 2.

Introduction: The Hermit and the Outlaw


Christianization meant a complete renovation of nearly every aspect of life for those who adopted it, an upheaval as great as any other that was symbolized through the restless body of the outlaw. There is, after all, no better example of how extensive and potentially traumatic the changes introduced by foreign contact could be than these societies’ efforts to conform to the standards of early medieval Christianity. It is not surprising, therefore, that the natives resorted to metaphors of motion in describing these innovations. This is especially the case with writing.97 Consider Aldhelm’s aenigmata for a pen: Pergo per albentes directo tramite campos Candentique uiae uestigia caerula linquo Lucida nigratis fuscans anfractibus arua. Nec satis est unum per campos pandere callem, Semita quin potius milleno tramite tendit, Quae non errantes ad caeli culmina uexit.98 I proceed on straight paths through white f ields and leave cerulean marks along the spotless track, blackness darkening the bright rolling countryside. It is not enough for one to lay down a path through the fields, a trail that instead stretches into innumerable paths, which carry to heaven at the end if they do not wander.

In the view of a native Anglo-Saxon trained in the conventions and with the tools of Latin learning, the treacherousness of such practices remains in mind, and he conceptualizes it through the risky behavior that brought such novelties to his culture in the first place – the movement of bodies, objects, and ideas through space.99 Note too its metaphor of conduct, wherein the way one traverses the page is juxtaposed with the way one walks a path, and then both are revealed to be comparable to the acts that either win or lose one a place in heaven. Those in the North Atlantic understood the stakes of their integration into Christian culture, and conveyed its dangers by relating them to the 97 The ways in which the newly-Christian Irish negotiated their transition from oral to written authority is one of the major concerns of Nagy, Conversing with Angels and Ancients. See particularly pp. 1-22, 40-44, 135-137 and 199-208. For the Anglo-Saxons, see Rupp, ‘The Anxiety of Writing’, p. 262. 98 Aldhelm, Aenigmata LIX, p. 455, lines 3-8. See also Aldhelm, De virginitate, p. 320. 99 See also Muirchú maccu Macthéni, Vita Patricii, pp. 62-63; and Alcuin, Versus de sanctis Euboricensis ecclesiae, p. 198.



hazards of mobility. That they were not dazzled by progress is perhaps why their societies did not emerge from this radical reorganization fully ‘Roman’; no matter how much of Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian culture they absorbed, they carried over much of their indigenous practices and values into their new existences. The works of the Anglo-Saxons, Irish, and Icelanders are products of this process – the result of Germanic and Celtic peoples who learned the conventions and harnessed the resources of Romanitas and who now employed them for their own cultural ends. In all three cultures after a few generations the tools of literacy were used to preserve elements of traditional learning as well as put a local imprint upon Christian concepts and stories. These contributions appeared most often in vernacular languages which were themselves innovations, modified for use in the written form. Virtually all the works featured here are representatives of this synthesis. The others in the North Atlantic participated in this process, but had different experiences, or their literatures took different paths. The British converted much earlier than the appearance of their first vernacular works; they had been a part of the Roman Empire, and for this reason had a different relationship to Romanitas. The Picts, more simply, left virtually nothing by which to judge them.100 In the Anglo-Saxons, Irish, and Icelanders, however, we have three cultures which arose in much the same environment, reacting to much the same circumstances. Considering cultural interaction and literature in the context of the archipelago has been done for other island societies, particularly in the modern era, but there has been little discussion of this dynamic in the North Sea. One major exception has been the work of J.G.A. Pocock, a New Zealander, who has conceptualized the multi-ethnic reality of early modern Britain and Ireland by referring to their region as the Atlantic Archipelago, in contrast to the term ‘British Isles’, which occasions resistance in some quarters.101 Only a few followed Pocock’s lead, however. There is John Kerrigan’s Archipelagic English, which extended Pocock’s interest into the literary realm of seventeenth-century England; more ambitious, at least in terms of time span, is Richard S. Tompson’s The Atlantic Archipelago. These scholars’ invocation of the archipelago, as here, is meant to emphasize the cultural diversity and interconnectivity found in the area; where they 100 Clancy, ‘Scottish Literature before Scottish Literature’, p. 16. 101 Pocock, ‘British History: A Plea for a New Subject’, pp. 29-30. He applies this frame in considering British history in the subsequent essays in the same book, A Discovery of Islands. On the problems with ‘Britain’ in a medieval context, see Ingham, ‘The Trouble with Britain’, pp. 484-496.

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perhaps err, at least from the perspective of a medievalist, is in their use of the modern borders of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland to determine the boundaries of their archipelago. After all, as Matthew Boyd Goldie and Sebastian Sobecki point out, ‘geographical considerations of the archipelago are distinguishable from political, ethnographic, and other lines of inquiry’.102 In these works on early modern Britain, the other side of the English Channel is not considered part of the archipelago, nor any of the islands further north. This suits their periodization, but not one wherein England was ruled by Danish kings or held extensive lands in France.103 The artificiality of political boundaries is apparent in Tompson’s work, which in adhering to this standard must include the Hebrides, Orkneys, and Shetland Isles in its history. Yet the Faeroe Islands are excluded, despite everything they share in history and culture with the (technically) Scottish territories. The only mentions of any of these islands in the book, after all, are in reference to their isolation or possession by the Norse; there is no discussion of them as participants in British history or contributors to its culture, and as a result they appear inconsequential.104 A geographical term implies a geographical reality, one which may not conform to national boundaries but just so happens to fit the purposes of this work well. By considering the entire range of the North Atlantic, we can better see the implications of movement in the literatures of the region. This is a lot of discussion of islands for a work that claims to be looking at something larger – after all, liminality, mobility, and outlawry exist in the absence of an archipelago. However, the setting of the North Atlantic, at least on the macro scale, is that of the archipelago. And even elsewhere, the idea of the island has a metaphorical power that extends beyond the literal, just as mobility can so easily represent both the physical and the abstract. John Edward Terrell examines this in his attempt to define ‘island’:

102 Goldie and Sobecki, ‘Editors’ Introduction: Our Seas of Islands’, p. 473. 103 Though as Goldie and Sobecki also point out, in describing the region as an archipelago, we are not reflecting medieval terminology, and, perhaps, conceptualization. ‘Editors’ Introduction: Our Seas of Islands’, pp. 472 and 475. Of course, the geographical reality encompassed by that term remains. For one example of a medieval characterization of the region and its unity – though not one without ulterior motive – see Sobecki, ‘Introduction: Edgar’s Archipelago’, pp. 1-30. 104 Tompson, The Atlantic Archipelago, pp. 20, 62 and 101-102. In contrast, see Grohse, ‘From Asset in War to Assest in Diplomacy’, pp. 255-268, for an account of the importance of the Orkneys in the medieval history of Norway. For their literary historical importance, see Clancy, ‘Scottish Literature before Scottish Literature’, pp. 17-18 and 21-22. See also Kerrigan, Archipelagic English, p. 43, for a brief description of the cultural disunity and shifting national borders of the Isles in the early modern era.



Stepping back from the kinds of islands that most of us know, biogeographers like to say in a more inclusive way that islands are what they are because they are living spaces (habitats) of any size that are surrounded by decisive shifts in habitat – shifts so basic that few species of plants and animals can survive for long in more than one of these habitats. I favor this more inclusive definition for an obvious reason. When defined in this fashion, islands are everywhere, not just out there in the deep blue sea. For example, depending on the particular kind of creature and its biological needs, berry bushes in a cow pasture are islands; so too, are cow pastures beside an interstate; cornfields great and small; and so on.105

Islands are regions of any size surrounded by liminal space where existence to those in the center is intolerable or inconceivable. They include not only land bound by the sea, but the wild areas between settlements, environments like the fens that make normal modes of living impossible, and ethnic enclaves in a sea of homogeneity. And what of those rare creatures – paradoxical animals such as the ‘land-fish’ that E.G. Stanley equates with Grendel, an archetypal exile of Old English verse – that can thrive in the liminal, unneedful of the elements so ‘basic’ to the others to survive?106 These are those like the outlaws, who reveal the potential of the liminal, and are monstrous because of it.

Texts and Dates Given the breadth and ubiquity of concepts such as movement and liminality, it would be impossible to attempt to consider every instance of outlawry or liminality in medieval North Atlantic literature. Instead, each chapter examines an expression of outlawry or pseudo-outlawry in literature, each building upon the other to create a comprehensive picture of the dynamics of transgression and conduct in the region. They also move roughly chronologically, placing a consideration of the indigenous Irish phenomena of ailithre and immrama early in the sequence and continuing into Anglo-Saxon and then Icelandic practice and literature, concluding with the Norman Conquest, which inaugurated changes throughout the archipelago in the 105 Terrell, ‘Islands in the River of Time’, p. 7. See also Beer, ‘Island Bounds’, p. 33; as well as Sarah Harlan-Haughey’s description of outlaw spaces as ‘ecotonic’, ‘transitional … between one biome and another’. The Ecology of the English Outlaw in Medieval Literature, p. 12. 106 Stanley, ‘A Very Land-Fish, Languagelesse, a Monster’, p. 86.

Introduction: The Hermit and the Outlaw


subsequent centuries. Such a structure prompts the question of how the project dates this material, however, since much of it is subject to scholarly disagreement over its proper placement in the timeline. Most Irish works exist only in manuscripts centuries younger than what their contents are thought to be – yet estimates as to the actual age of the compositions can vary widely.107 Icelandic works are more easily dateable, yet they are primarily concerned with the past, and their value as historical documents is dubious.108 As for Anglo-Saxon works, most could be plausibly dated from anytime between the seventh and eleventh centuries. Within this time frame were a number of occurrences which one would expect to affect attitudes towards movement, especially abroad – the waxing and waning influence of Rome, Irish involvement, further encroachment upon the British kingdoms, the advent of the Vikings and Cnut’s reign – and so where a piece may fall along this timeline is potentially a very important matter. This project’s response to this issue is to, for the most part, take the path of least resistance; that is to say, to accept the most commonly-held opinions on the date of works that play an important part in its analyses. For most of the material, then, this suggests an early date. The Irish immrama are usually taken as quite early, from around the sixth or seventh century.109 Most of the important Anglo-Saxon works covered here, too, are usually taken as relatively old, with the Guthlac material rather early (eighth century).110 Short pieces such as The Whale normally present too little information to be dated effectively. It could be relatively late, as its terminus ante quem is the compilation of its manuscript, the Exeter Book, in the tenth century; however, the date of its composition could also be extremely early, as its closest analogue, a Latin Physiologus, is from the fourth century.111 Given the poem’s subject matter, it is often thought to be connected with the longer work The Phoenix and therefore given an eighth-century date.112 This leaves Beowulf, whose dating is an issue that continues to spark debate; at the very 107 See, for example, the varying estimates given for the immrama and the Táin Bó Cualnge in Hughes, Early Christian Ireland, pp. 175-176 and 211. 108 O’Donoghue, Old Norse-Icelandic Literature, pp. 36-47; and Jón Karl Helgason, ‘Continuity? The Icelandic Sagas in Post-Medieval Times’, pp. 75-78. 109 Thrall, ‘Clerical Sea Pilgrimages and the Imrama’, pp. 16-17. 110 Bertram Colgrave, Introduction, Felix’s Life of Saint Guthlac, pp. 15-19; Jane Roberts, Introduction, The Guthlac Poems of the Exeter Book, pp. 70-71. See also Fulk, A History of Old English Meter, p. 400. 111 Physiologus latinus, pp. 7-8. 112 Krapp and Dobbie, Introduction, ASPR 3, pp. xxxv-xxxvi and li; and Fulk, A History of Old English Meter, pp. 402-404.



least it can support an early composition.113 Much of this project, then, leans towards the earliest centuries for its material and for the worldviews it describes – it examines early practices such as the Irish ailithre and delves into issues such as succession in the Heptarchy and relates them to the literature. The Christian concepts and works it engages were similarly present in the North Atlantic at an early time. For these reasons, it could be said that an early date is favored, and that the Anglo-Saxon tradition this project examines is pre-Alfredian. Yet at the same time, this work’s conclusions could conceivably apply to the later Anglo-Saxon era. First, there is the obvious point that whenever the sources were composed, they continued to be copied and enjoyed in later centuries. Yet it should also be noted that there is little indication that Anglo-Saxon attitudes towards mobility or the foreign changed despite all of the many forces that would seem to shape them. Surely this is largely due to lack of evidence – seventh- and eleventh-century England were different in myriad ways. The Danish invasions are an instructive example.114 The Viking incursions were the basis for Dorothy Whitelock’s rejection of a late date for Beowulf, as she reasoned that no Anglo-Saxon audience could countenance such positive depictions of the Danes after raiders from that kingdom had devastated Britain.115 Yet this specific argument has already been countered,116 and, more generally, a strained relationship with a single people does not preclude good relations with others and a favorable view of cultural exchange overall. In the aftermath of the invasions King Alfred noted how once ‘mon utanbordes wisdom & lare hider on lond sohte’117 (‘men from abroad sought out teaching and learning in this land’), and his biographer boasted that he had recreated such a world.118 Even more to the point, Alfred’s court is known to have attracted one Norse individual, Ohthere of northern Norway.119 The Anglo-Saxon ruling class of the incipient Viking Age therefore either held no animus towards the Norse or else they 113 Important considerations of Beowulf ’s date – representing a variety of conclusions – include The Dating of Beowulf; Kiernan, Beowulf and the Beowulf Manuscript; Dumville, ‘Beowulf Come Lately: Some Notes on the Paleography of the Nowell Codex’, pp. 49-63; and Lapidge, ‘The Archetype of Beowulf ’, pp. 5-42. 114 For an examination of the Danish incursions’ possible effects upon Anglo-Saxon literature and society, see Foot, ‘Remembering, Forgetting and Inventing’, pp. 185-200. 115 Whitelock, The Audience of Beowulf, pp. 24-25. 116 Murray, ‘Beowulf, the Danish Invasions, and Royal Genealogy’, pp. 101-111. 117 King Alfred’s West-Saxon Version of Gregory’s Pastoral Care, p. 2. 118 Asser, Asser’s Life of King Alfred, pp. 61-63. 119 Murray, ‘Beowulf, the Danish Invasions, and Royal Genealogy’, pp. 105-106; and The Old English Orosius, pp. 14-16.

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were sophisticated enough to delineate between those from Denmark and those from the Norwegian coast. The Danish invasions also precipitated the unification of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms into the territory of England, an event which led in turn to their political hegemony in Britain. As they wielded more power than ever before in their dealings with others both within their island and without, one may expect them to express greater confidence towards the outside world rather than less.120 Similar inconclusive arguments over the effect of Viking raids on the character of early Irish literature can also be seen.121 For this reason, although more precision as to the actual date of the works is to be desired, there is little to prevent the conclusions here from being treated as continuous through Anglo-Saxon history. The ability of North Atlantic cultures to countenance boundarycrossing impacts even our attempts to date their literature.

120 An excellent examination of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom’s successful and assured wielding of political power in the post-Viking age is Sharp’s study of Alfred’s grandson’s diplomacy in ‘England, Europe, and the Celtic World: King Æthelstan’s Foreign Policy’, pp. 197-220. 121 See the attempt to determine the effects of the Viking raids on the immrama by Hughes, ‘The Changing Theory and Practice of Irish Pilgrimage’, pp. 143-151; and the reply of Oskamp in The Voyage of Máel Dúin, pp. 16-19.


Outlawry and Liminality in the North Atlantic

The Meaning of Wrecca The valorization of the outlaw found in medieval texts is something that likely rarely occurred in real life. In reality, the most pertinent aspect of outlaws was how desperate and dangerous they were, no matter what other qualities they may have held. Out of a simple sense of self-preservation communities did not look to them for protection, or justice, or wisdom, or any other benefit they may provide in medieval fiction. Yet the circumstances by which fictional outlaws obtain and display these positive qualities are the same that made historical outlaws unique threats to conventional society in the Middle Ages. Establishing the context which allowed for the revision of outlawry in medieval fiction hinges upon understanding how audiences in these cultures came to invest outlaws with specific abilities that other figures did not – and perhaps could not – plausibly possess. As we shall see, what marked an outlaw was his or her unceasing motion. An outlaw was one who flees, as the Anglo-Saxon terms wrecca and flyma convey, and that flight rarely had a terminus. Instead, outlaws led a restless existence, conducted in the remote boundaries of kingdoms, scrambling to outpace those seeking to capture or kill them. Of course, outlaws were not the only individuals moving along the boundaries of medieval literature or history. Numerous types were pushed to the margins by early medieval societies, or chose to exist there, either temporarily or permanently; likewise, there are plenty of characters out of medieval literature that demonstrate similar motion. In doing so, they share much with the outlaw. Nevertheless, outlaws occupy a central place in the understanding of itinerancy in this era. They are depicted as possessing the attributes of transience more ostensibly and in greater degree than other movers, and the portrayal of other roaming heroes – from saints to warriors to sailors – in turn relies heavily on outlaw tropes. Ultimately, a consideration of outlawry and its import is inextricable from a wider conversation about the potential engendered out of the movement of bodies across boundaries in the Middle Ages. All travelers access some amount of influence on account of their position on the margins, a power unavailable to more stationary and centralized members of their communities. They are change agents, capable of transforming their surroundings, their societies, and themselves in fundamental ways. Outlaws,



being so deeply and continually immersed in such liminal environments, display these attributes most strongly. Consequently, others attempt to obtain, wield, or recreate the power of the outlaw while not fully embracing the label. In Anglo-Saxon literature, nothing so well captures the tension inherent to outlawry as the ambivalence surrounding the word wrecca (pl. wreccan). The term relates quite closely to exile, but its precise meaning is dependent on context, both within its text and in the circumstances in which it is used. Just as the original Latin exul encompasses both voluntary and involuntary forms of displacement, wrecca too has a wider semantic range than the modern English translation might suggest.1 The Anglo-Saxon Dictionary defines it as ‘one driven from his own country, a wanderer in foreign lands, an exile, a stranger, pilgrim’.2 It derives from a common Germanic root, *wrakja(n)-, the stem of which, wrek-, is what gives Modern English its verb wreak and carries with it a core meaning of compelling or driving forward (the Oxford English Dictionary identifies it as cognate with the Latin urgere).3 It is related to the Middle High German recke (pl. recken), which could itself mean exile but also carried the common meaning of ‘knight errant’ or ‘adventurer’.4 In the Nibelungenlied, for example, Siegfried and the other knights are constantly referred to as recken, with no allusion to exile status intended.5 In some cases in Anglo-Saxon literature, it appears that wrecca is being used in this manner as well, unambiguously. Wudga and Hama in Widsith and Sigeferth in The Fight at Finnsburgh are described as wreccan, with no apparent implication of exile attached.6 Yet even if the antecedent of wrecca had a neutral meaning that could plausibly describe a hero, in the English language it was undergoing a semantic shift that would culminate in the modern word wretch. Consequently, most appearances of the term carry a meaning not only of exile, but also of sorrow, alienation, or shame. Those described as wreccan within the Anglo-Saxon corpus include such biblical villains as demons, Nebuchadnezzar, and Cain. Cain’s descendant, Grendel, walks the wræclastas, ‘the paths of exiles’, as does the epitome 1 For exul, see Bowie, ‘Early Expatriates’, p. 21. Cotten-Spreckelmeyer considers the distinctions and intersections between Anglo-Saxon exile and later medieval outlawry in ‘Robin Hood: Outlaw or Exile?’, pp. 133-145. 2 ‘wrecca’, An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, p. 1273. See also Greenfield, ‘The Exile-Wanderer in Anglo-Saxon Poetry’, pp. 76-78. 3 ‘wretch, n. and adj.’; and ‘wreak, v.’ OED Online. 4 ‘recke, reke’, Mittelhochdeutsches Taschenwörterbuch, p. 164. 5 The term can be found throughout, but the first Âventiure can be taken as representative, wherein Gunther, Gêrnot, and their entire company are described as recken while they rule in their kingdom rather than languish in exile. Das Nibelungenlied, p. 1-5. 6 Widsith, ASPR 3, lines 129-130; The Fight at Finnsburg, lines 24-25.

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of evil, Satan. Adam, too, when he is ejected from the Garden of Eden is sent on wræc hweorfan, ‘to wander in exile’.7 As a result of this variety of meaning, at times it can be unclear as to what exactly a label of wrecca is intended to denote. A good example of this is the interlude in Beowulf in which the hero Sigemund – the Anglo-Saxon equivalent of Siegfried’s father Siegmund in the Nibelungenlied and Sigmund in the corresponding Norse Völsunga saga – is described as ‘wreccena wide mærost’8 (‘the most famous of wreccan’). In this moment, is he being described as a literal exile (as he is in Norse tradition), as a wretch, or simply as an adventurer? Given that this brief allusion is the only mention of Sigemund’s heroic cycle in Anglo-Saxon literature, it is impossible to say definitively.9 Most commentators who examine the figure of the exile in Anglo-Saxon literature do not delve into this uncertainty and focus solely on its negative aspects. As noted in the Introduction, Gwendolyn Morgan reasons that the Anglo-Saxon ‘received his identity from his place in society and the esteem of its members […] exile or homelessness was the worst imaginable fate in Anglo-Saxon society, for it deprived the individual of his sense of self’.10 It is the loss of one’s standing that Jennifer Neville highlights as well when she says of exiles, ‘their state […] is precarious and miserable, for exiles lose everything: lost in the natural world, they lose their status as members of society, a status which confers upon them both power over others and the right to protection from those more powerful’. 11 For this reason, Frank Bessai characterizes exile as the ‘inverse […] of the heroic mode’ and as such opposite the appropriate role of the Anglo-Saxon. Consequently, for the exile, ‘his desire to return to the security of the group dominates all’, and that dominant concern extends, Anita R. Riedinger argues, to the whole of Anglo-Saxon literature.12 Stanley B. Greenfield makes exile even more 7 Cynewulf, Juliana, ASPR 3, line 351a; Genesis, ASPR 1, lines 928b and 1051a; Daniel, ASPR 1, line 633a; Christ and Satan, ASPR 1, lines 120a, 187b, and 257; and Beowulf, line 1352b. 8 Beowulf, line 898. 9 Likely influenced by the depiction of Sigemund/Siegmund/Sigmund in other Germanic traditions, most commentators considered the rendering of Sigemund in Beowulf to be largely positive (cf. Kaske, ‘The Sigemund-Heremod and Hama-Hygelac Passages in Beowulf ’, pp. 489-494). This changed with M.S. Griffith’s reassessment, ‘Some Difficulties in Beowulf, lines 874-902’, pp. 11-41. It was challenged in some points but largely welcomed by Robinson, in ‘Sigemund’s Fæhðe ond Fyrena’, pp. 201-208. 10 See pp. 19-21. Morgan, ‘Essential Loss’, pp. 16-17. 11 Neville, Representations of the Natural World in Old English Poetry, p. 84. See also Neville, ‘Monsters and Criminals’, pp. 119-120. 12 Bessai, ‘Comitatus and Exile in Old English Poetry’, p. 139; and Riedinger, ‘“Home” in Old English Poetry’, p. 53.



central to the Anglo-Saxon identity, seeing it as their primary spiritual metaphor: In the scheme of social existence, the worst fate that could befall a man was to be left alone, unprotected, a wanderer on the face of the earth or over the sea, an object of calumny to his fellow men, a man with a price on his head. From a spiritual point of view, life itself was an exile, a banishment from eternal joys and the comradeship of angels, a wandering in hell, burdened with sins, far from the sight of God.13

It is important to note that these readings are not incorrect in their observations of the corpus. Most of the depictions of exile in Anglo-Saxon literature paint it as unpleasant. Yet if banishment was unpleasant, it does not inevitably follow that any exile should be pitied or reviled. As has been shown above, a designation of wrecca, in some contexts, had a neutral, positive, or ambiguous meaning. What, then, might have been the core quality of a wrecca? Greenf ield, in his examination of the trope in Anglo-Saxon poetry, identified four separate ‘concomitants’ that surrounded the concept. His concern was to isolate possible oral-formulaic elements in the presentation of exile, but his conclusions can be repurposed as inherent qualities of the wrecca. They are: status (as a loner), deprivation, (troubled) state of mind, and movement.14 As with the depictions of the wrecca from which Greenfield’s tropes are derived, at first glance these qualities appear unequivocally negative. Yet such is not always the case. All travel takes on some degree of loneliness, privation, uncertainty, and itinerancy – yet that does not make every traveler a wrecca. By examining the inherent discomfort that accompanies movement from home, as explicated by anthropological theories on the phenomenon, one can come to a better understanding of the peculiar position of the wrecca in Anglo-Saxon literature. All travelers sever ties, however briefly, with their own culture and forge bonds with a new; outlaws are but an extreme form of this phenomenon. The exotic connections associated with wreccan and other restless figures subtly set them apart and give them a unique value to their communities. However, it also makes them vaguely threatening. These attributes attach to one who journeys for any number of reasons, and these shared qualities serve to both 13 Greenfield, ‘The Exile-Wanderer in Anglo-Saxon Poetry’, p. i. 14 Greenf ield, ‘The Formulaic Expression of the Theme of “Exile” in Anglo-Saxon Poetry’, pp. 200-206.

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give dignity to the wrecca but also to afford everyone engaged in movement with a degree of suspicion. Given this context, dubious individuals such as wreccan or related figures such as outlaws share positive qualities with the more obvious heroes of Anglo-Saxon literature, as well as reveal the subversion inherent to those heroes’ own identities. Engaging in movement therefore carries with it great benefits in exchange for unique hardships, and the way that Anglo-Saxon individuals learn to conduct themselves in such conditions allows us to develop a much fuller picture of how early English society felt about outlaws and others who made movements similar to them.

Itinerancy, Capital, and Power The foreign was capable of granting an individual – and indeed, even an object – great power. The reason for this, at least initially, is entirely practical. A resource found locally, whether it be a raw material or technical know-how, is familiar and oftentimes abundant. So long as it remains so, whatever demand exists for it cannot compare to something extraordinary and rare. One with access to foreign goods, therefore, often accumulates riches due to demands for his or her products and services. Yet to describe the clout of one with foreign contacts as strictly economic is to overlook the attendant benefits to such connections. First, foreign contact carries along with it a greater degree of esoteric knowledge. This is certainly the case for those who traffic in obscure disciplines – intellectual or artisanal specialties, for example – but even merchants shipping the most basic goods from one country to another are going to know more about that region than any of their compatriots back home. Familiarity with foreign geography and customs is good for their business, but it also grants them a knowledge just as esoteric to the uninitiated as if they were abroad studying hermeneutics. Of course, study can also afford one this capability. Yet those who journey as opposed to study receive from their travels additional power through actual interaction with the non-native. As Tim Ingold puts it, their knowing is a consequence of practice rather than property, and through application they gain a ‘storied’ knowledge borne out of movement through foreign space.15 Through this process, they can succeed in cultures with rules and mores different from those of their home countries. At another level, an individual operating in the political sphere is also able to forge alliances and therefore draw upon a power unavailable to anyone within a country’s borders. That one is capable of wielding such 15 Ingold, ‘Stories against Classification’, pp. 197-199.



exotic forces, moreover, adds to an individual’s prestige; to know that one has traveled means that one may very well have abilities not readily apparent and potentially incalculable to someone who has stayed sedentary. With no frame of reference, one’s foreign holdings may appear inexhaustible, their esoteric knowledge supernatural, and their overseas alliances insurmountable.16 These varieties of power derived from foreign contact correspond to the four types of capital anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu sees operating in human society: the economic (riches), the cultural (knowledge), the social (connections), and the symbolic (prestige).17 In the early Middle Ages, those best-positioned to access and use these various types of capital were members of the nobility, both secular and ecclesiastical. They had the means – usually in the form of previously-accrued capital – to effect travel and amass even greater stores of these societal resources. As a result, cosmopolitanism was a quality that usually marked medieval courts, and one that rulers in turn tried to cultivate and advertise. The desire for foreign capital was perhaps especially acute at what was understood to be the margins of Europe, places far away from recognized centers of culture and prestige. Kathy Lavezzo describes Anglo-Saxon England itself as a kind of exile precisely because of its relative lack of recognized capital compared to such distant locations as Jerusalem or Rome.18 Alfred’s biographer Asser, therefore, may have been particularly keen to emphazise his monarch’s worldliness when he compares him to apis prudentissima, quae primo mane caris e cellulis consurgens aestivo tempore, per incerta aeris itinera cursum veloci volatu dirigens, super multiplices ac diversos herbarum, holerum, fructicum flosculos descendit, probatque quid maxime placuerit atque domum reportat – mentis oculos longum dirigit, quaerens extrinsecus quod intrinsecus non hebebat, id est in proprio regno suo.19 16 For an accounting of these considerations operating in a variety of cultures throughout history, see Helms, Ulysses’ Sail, pp. 11-16 and 111-130. 17 For an overview of these concepts, see Wanner, Snorri Sturluson and the Edda, pp. 8-15; and Bourdieu, ‘Ökonomisches Kapital, kulturelles Kapital, soziales Kapital’, pp. 183-198. This is translated by Richard Nice in The Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education, pp. 241258. For Bourdieu’s own initial descriptions of these concepts, see ‘Sur le Pouvoir Symbolique’, pp. 405-411; Esquisse d’une Théorie de la Pratique, pp. 227-243; La Distinction, pp. i-viii; ‘A Reply to Some Objections’, pp. 111-115; and ‘The Purpose of Reflexive Sociology (The Chicago Workshop)’, pp. 117-120. Effort has been made to refer to the original language sources wherever possible. 18 Lavezzo, Angels on the Edge of the World, p. 30. 19 Asser, Asser’s Life of King Alfred, pp. 61-63. Asser reuses this metaphor at p. 74, and appears to have derived its imagery from Aldhelm’s De virginitate, pp. 233-234. For an examination

Outlawry and Liminality in the North Atlantic


The ever-shrewd bee, who, rising first thing in the morning from its lovely honeycomb in the summertime [and] wending its way through the air in swift flight on an undetermined course, alights upon the many diverse blossoms of herbs, greens, and shrubs, and carries those it finds most pleasing back to its home. [Alfred] directed the eyes of his mind far off, searching outside for what he did not have within – that is, within his own kingdom.

Alfred’s efforts in this direction are seen in his generosity to foreigners, his willingness to receive their knowledge, and the great variety of nationalities that attend at court.20 Asser, a Briton, was himself evidence of this multiculturalism, as was Ohthere, Alfred’s Norwegian visitor.21 That access to the foreign was deemed valuable by medieval governments can also be seen in their attempts to monopolize it. Rulers of the countries of the medieval North Atlantic worked to ensure that as much foreign influence in their realms as possible was mediated through their courts. In many ways the consideration was practical. Visitors would want to seek out the hospitality of their destination’s ruler for their own protection, and merchants wished to offer their wares to those most able to pay generously for them; leaders meanwhile could have first access to exotic goods and services, and exploit wealthy travelers through tolls and tribute.22 Yet this state of affairs also consolidated the advantage these powerbrokers held in the various types of capital inherent in foreign contact: they gained in riches, intelligence, connections, and prestige by asserting first rights to any person or resource from abroad.23 Nevertheless, the ruling class could never have full control over foreign influence any more than they could monopolize movement. Consequently, there were several groups of people who contested the dominance of political leaders in this realm, either intentionally or not. Throughout history, when these groups grew enough in size and influence to challenge secular leadership, they often found themselves demonized for the foreign aspects they represented. Merchants, the ones whose labors brought exotic goods to the nobility, were themselves of a lower class, as were travelling performers. of Alfred’s reign that makes use of Bourdieu’s theories of capital, see Discenza, ‘Wealth and Wisdom’, pp. 433-467. 20 Asser, Asser’s Life of King Alfred, pp. 59-63. 21 The Old English Orosius, pp. 14-16. 22 Sawyer, ‘Kings and Merchants’, pp. 139-158; and Byock, Viking Age Iceland, p. 256. 23 Helms, Ulysses’ Sail, pp. 131-171.



Neither had a very good reputation in the Middle Ages.24 The Church as well also afforded some mobility to individuals who otherwise would not have traveled; this is especially the case with missionaries, but as the Middle Ages progressed preachers grew increasingly mobile. Yet traveling preachers were often equated with other itinerant performers and denigrated,25 and religious movements marked specifically by their wide-ranging journeys and openness to foreign ideas often found themselves attacked as deviant.26 Then there were entire masses of transient people. Disasters forced people to become emigrants, and an influx of refugees could easily lead to political instability. There are also cultures that are by nature nomadic, and in their itinerancy present danger to the status quo.27 Nearly all the cultures which entered Europe from the east in the Middle Ages – the Huns, the Magyars, the Turks, the Mongols – were at least initially nomadic, and their invasions could not help but cause turmoil. And then of course there were the Jews, whose itinerancy since the destruction of the Second Temple was largely compelled, though that certainly did not save them from persecution.28 There also were the Roma. These figures oftentimes held increased levels of capital due to the cultural connections or exotic reputations their greater mobility afforded them, yet these same qualities also led to greater suspicion and discrimination.29 24 The disdain for traveling entertainers is well-known and was outlined as far back as Jusserand, La Vie Nomade et les Routes D’Angleterre au XIVe Siècle, pp. 129-139. For general attitudes toward merchants, see McCormick, Origins of the European Economy, pp. 12-15; for the merchants’ concerns in this matter, see Staley, ‘Fictions of the Island’, p. 540. 25 Owst, Literature and Pulpit in Medieval England, pp. 10-16; and Szittya, The Antifraternal Tradition in Medieval Literature, pp. 251-257. 26 Of the charges brought against the Templars, both their homosexuality and their heresy were attributed, in part, to the Muslims which the crusading order encountered in the Middle East, as well as with the Cathars, who were influenced by Eastern heterodoxies. The Templars were also accused of conspiring with Muslims to bring down Christendom. Barber, The Trial of the Templars, pp. 178-192. The mendicant orders also encountered considerable opposition for their itinerancy. Although outside the Middle Ages, the same phenomenon can also be seen in the Chinese rites controversy among the Jesuits, and the suspicion that they were too accommodating to foreign rituals is one of the factors which led to their suppression in the eighteenth century. Campbell, The Jesuits, 1534-1921, p. 560; and Minamiki, The Chinese Rites Controversy from its Beginnings to Modern Times, pp. 25-76. 27 Deleuze and Guattari, ‘Traité de nomadologie: la machine de guerre’, pp. 434-527; Cresswell, In Place/ Out of Place, pp. 81-88; and Cresswell, On the Move, pp. 26-42. 28 The situation of the Jews was exacerbated in the later Middle Ages when governments began expelling their Jewish populations, forcing an even greater itinerancy upon them. The course of events stemming from one such occurrence, in France in 1306, and its effects upon Jewish communities, is minutely examined by Einbinder in No Place of Rest. 29 This phenomenon is especially apparent in the initial reactions to the Roma, who were easily accepted as exiled Egyptians by general populations (hence their common name ‘gypsy’). As

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The Role of the Outlaw Yet among the array of itinerant peoples who threatened the medieval establishment’s hold on capital, none had more potential for danger than the exile. Banishment is a penalty most effectively wielded against powerful people, since it in theory deprives them of the stores of capital they have already amassed. The speaker in The Wanderer, an archetypical wrecca, lists what he has lost: mearg (‘the horse’), maþþumgyfa (‘the gift-giver’), symbla gesetu (‘banquet seats’), seledreamas (‘joys of the hall’), beorht bune (‘the bright goblet’), byrnwiga (‘the outfitted fighter’), and þeodnes þrym (‘the lord’s might’).30 These are the hallmarks of the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy, the very objects and privileges a member of the nobility would lose if exiled. To give up such trappings of power would entail a loss of much of his or her identity, as Morgan notes;31 however, as a punishment meted out for often political reasons, to cut a competitor off from such markers of status and tools for opposition is an extremely practical move as well. To separate a rival from supporters and other resources, and to imply disgrace while doing so, is an effective way of stripping the threat from them. However, exile abroad also places one in a position favorable for accumulating the more exotic types of capital outlined above, types which are unavailable (or less attainable) to one who stays put. If an exile were to return – and possibly with his or her previous forms of capital restored – the former outcast could come back more formidable than ever before.32 The potential of exile to both grant the sufferer great prestige and to ultimately undermine the status quo reaches its zenith in the figure of the outlaw in medieval North Atlantic literature. As an actual component of early medieval law, outlawry may be considered synonymous with exile, depending on one’s interpretation of the concept. As outlined in the Introduction,

such they were assumed to possess esoteric talents that made them valuable as entertainers, fortunetellers, and healers. However, their exotic reputations also easily led to accusations of paganism, heresy, shiftiness, or subversion. Crowe, A History of the Gypsies of Eastern Europe and Russia, pp. 2, 32 and 69-71. 30 The Wanderer, ASPR 3, lines 92-95a. 31 Morgan, ‘Essential Loss’, pp. 16-17. 32 Prominent examples of this occurring in the medieval North Atlantic include both kings Óláf Tryggvason and Óláf the Saint from Norwegian history. Snorri Sturluson, Heimskringla, I, pp. 225-232, 251-269 and 296-300; and II, pp. 3-27 and 33-72. There is Diarmait mac Murchada as well, whose solicitation of Norman aid in regaining his position in Ireland initiated their involvement in the island. As we shall see, the f irst centuries of Anglo-Saxon settlement in Britain also contained a great deal of exile and return among the aristocracy.



the earliest modern considerations on the subject were divided.33 Felix Liebermann’s construction of outlawry as a ‘loss of peace’ describes more a situation that would lead to exile rather than explicit banishment. Julius Goebel, Jr., in contrast, identifies exile as one of three grades of outlawry (the other two are flight – and so, self-exile – and a state which corresponds to Liebermann’s definition).34 Of course, actual practice often confounds any attempt at classification, and in many contexts the equivalence between exile and outlawry is difficult to maintain. It may be fair to describe it as a specific type of exile, in which the banishment is the result of legal action against the person in question – because of one’s crime, one’s safety guaranteed under the law is revoked (hence the term out-law).35 So not every exile (or wrecca) is such due to a sentence of outlawry. However, whatever its relation, the effect of outlawry is alienation due to the disruption it forces between an individual and his or her society, and identical to exile in how it is compelled. As such it can shed light on the dangers and benefits of movement among the foreign in the early Middle Ages. In reality, to be declared an outlaw was a harsh sentence given in response to only the most grievous crimes. To have one’s community’s laws rescinded meant that any action could be taken against the outlaw with impunity. Since a sentence of outlawry was often in response to an act of murder, and since the societies of the early medieval North Atlantic pursued justice through familial (as opposed to state) enforcement, there were usually injured parties wishing to see the outlaw dead and empowered to act upon that desire; indeed, the sentence could only have been handed down if they had pursued it, since only they had the standing to prosecute injuries done to them and their kin.36 What a sentence of outlawry did, therefore, was to make the killing of the convicted an unpunishable offense, incapable of deriving any penalty from the outlaw’s death in a society where every wrong was intended to be balanced out with a commensurate loss of life or property. Oftentimes outlawry also carried with it an injunction against aiding the 33 Pp. 13-14. 34 Liebermann, ‘Die Friedlosigkeit bei den Angelsachsen’, pp. 17-37; and Goebel, Jr., Felony and Misdemeanor, pp. 419-420 (note 289). See also van Houts, ‘The Vocabulary of Exile and Outlawry in the North Sea Area around the First Millennium’, pp. 13-14; and Jones, Outlawry in Medieval Literature, pp. 17-22. 35 This is essentially Liebermann’s view, though this is not meant as an endorsement of his view in toto. In particular, Goebel’s insistence on local and temporal variation is an important qualification to Liebermann’s argument. See also Byock, Viking Age Iceland, pp. 231-232; Kelly, A Guide to Early Irish Law, pp. 222-224; and Jones, Outlawry in Medieval Literature, pp. 13-25. 36 For overviews of this legal milieu, see Byock, Viking Age Iceland, pp. 219-232; Kelly, A Guide to Early Irish Law, pp. 125-127; and Loyn, ‘Kinship in Anglo-Saxon England’, pp. 202-206.

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convicted in any way.37 The result was that the outlaw’s own society was rendered implacably hostile to him or her; the only option left would be to leave the area where the judgment held jurisdiction. Outlawry therefore was not actually a sentence of exile, but one which effectively resulted in it, if the outlaw wished to remain alive – in any case, the disruptive element, in theory, would never be present in the community again. The outlaw, then, was a fugitive, likely a desperate one. Moreover, given the seriousness of the crime that would have led to the sentence (and assuming guilt), in most real cases outlaws were extremely dangerous individuals. That this was the case can be seen the way law codes refer to outlaws, and how they are characterized in the wider literature. The Norse term for the most serious form of outlawry was skóggangr, ‘forest-going’, a designation that emphasized the removal of the convicted from civilized society and into the realm of the wild.38 The Icelandic law code Grágás refers to such men as vargar, ‘wolves’, saying that if one is sentenced to outlawry, ‘þá scal hann svá viða vargr, rækr oc rekin’39 (‘then he shall be like a wolf, disowned and cast out’). The term vargr has cognates that can be traced very far back into Indo-European history. It appears to be derived ultimately from the concept of strangulation, and how close it has been associated with wolves throughout time and across cultures is a matter of dispute. 40 The ‘wolf’ meaning is attested explicitly in Old Norse only, but vargr is most certainly cognate with the Old English wearg (an evil or accursed being), a term very close to wrecca in connotation – Grendel, along with walking the wræclastas, is a heorowearh (‘sword-monster’), his mother a grundwyrgen (‘monster of the deep’). 41 An association of exiles with wolves does appear elsewhere in Anglo-Saxon literature, though without any specialized terminology, as in 37 See, for example, § 13.1 and § 15α of the law code II Canute, in The Laws of the Kings of England from Edmund to Henry I, pp. 180-181. 38 Byock, Viking Age Iceland, p. 231. 39 Grágás, p. 206. Note also that twice in this quote are used terms derived from the Icelandic verb reka, ‘to drive, repel’, which are ultimately derived from the same source as Old English wrecca. 40 Amory, ‘The Medieval Icelandic Outlaw’, p. 194; and Higley, ‘Finding the Man Under the Skin’, pp. 336 and 352-358. See also Gerstein, ‘Germanic Warg’, pp. 131-156; Jacoby, Wargus, Vargr, ‘Verbrecher’, ‘Wolf ’; Weitenberg, ‘The Meaning of the Expression “To Become a Wolf” in Hittite’, pp. 189-198; Stanley, ‘Wolf, My Wolf!’, pp. 46-57; Osborn, ‘Die Monster in Beowulf ’, pp. 162-165; and Harlan-Haughey, The Ecology of the English Outlaw in Medieval Literature, pp. 24-32. For the potential implications of this term within Indo-European legal tradition, see von Jhering, L’Esprit du droit Romain, pp. 282-284; and Agamben, Homo sacer, pp. 116-123. For an overview of the wolf as a symbol of the outlaw throughout the Middle Ages, see Pluskowski, Wolves and the Wilderness in the Middle Ages, pp. 185-192. 41 Beowulf, lines 1267a and 1518b.



Maxims I where the ‘wineleas, wonsælig mon’ (‘friendless, accursed man’) is said to ‘genimeð him wulfas to geferan’ (‘acquire wolves for himself as companions’). The poem follows this gnomic statement with an appositive description ‘felafæcne deor’ (‘untrustworthy creature[s]’), which, given that deor can mark either the mon or the wulfas, serves to equate them both. 42 Similar associations of outlaws with wolves can be seen in Irish sources as well. An exile from abroad is known as cú glas (‘grey dog’ or wolf), and the rebellious fosterbrothers – and future exiles – from Togail Bruidne Da Derga in the Yellow Book of Lecan are said to be oc fáelad (‘wolfing’) when they plunder Connacht. 43 These are indications of a general association across the early medieval North Atlantic of outlaws with wolves and other dangerous, inhuman beasts.

Outlawry in North Atlantic Literature and Practice However, despite the very real threats posed by outlaws in medieval society, fiction from the early North Atlantic oftentimes views these figures romantically and depicts their outlawry as an inconvenience rather than a death sentence. This especially can be seen in the Icelandic sagas. There are, of course, the three ‘outlaw sagas’, Grettis saga, Gísla saga Súrsson, and Harðar saga ok Hólmverja, which treat the fugitives as heroic figures unfairly condemned. However, these works alone do not fully indicate the importance of exilic travel – with or without the formal sentence of outlawry – as a trope in Icelandic literature, one that traces back to the island’s very identity. Icelanders fashioned themselves as the descendants of rebels, nobles who would not stand to serve under a king and so left as Harald Fair-Hair was consolidating his rule over Norway. In some cases, these departures occasioned bad blood between them and the king, so that they were made unwelcome in the realm even if their outlawry was not formally declared. 44 A good example of this can be found in Egils saga, where Egil’s father 42 Maxims I, ASPR 3, lines 146-147a. 43 Kelly, A Guide to Early Irish Law, p. 6; and Togail Bruidne Da Derga, p. 7. See also McCone, ‘Werewolves, Cyclopes, Díberga, and Fíanna’, pp. 15-22; West, ‘Aspects of Díberg in the Tale Togail Bruidne Da Derga’, pp. 955-958 and 961-964; Carey, ‘Werewolves in Medieval Ireland’, pp. 68-69; and Higley, ‘Finding the Man Under the Skin’, pp. 335-378. 44 Poilvez, ‘Access to the Margins’, pp. 118-119. Formal declarations of outlawry occur in Eyrbyggja saga, pp. 5-7; yet are absent, in the case of some of the same figures, in Laxadæla saga, pp. 4-5. See also Vatnsdæla saga, pp. 22-28; and Grettis saga, pp. 4-6. For Icelandic outlawry in general, see Amory, ‘The Medieval Icelandic Outlaw’, pp. 189-203.

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Skalla-Grím and grandfather Kveldúlf, seeking to avenge themselves of Harald’s unfair (but legal) killing of his uncle Þórólf, ambush one of his ships, kill his liegeman, and sail off with his property. 45 From there they sail to Iceland. That Harald never pronounces them outlaws makes little difference when they have committed offenses worthy of the term and fled (indeed, Goebel would consider this outlawry-by-flight). Underlining the men’s similarity to vargar is how, in the course of this crime, Kveldúlf undergoes a transformation into something like a wolf. This is a capacity possessed by Kveldúlf and his line – and gave him his name, kveld-úlfr, the night-wolf – and it appears to mark their relative unsociability.46 That they should find themselves unable to easily move in civilized society is conveyed in their bodies as much as in their behavior, and so like other vargar they make their attack and then flee. Yet Kveldúlf and his descendants are heroes, and in their scandalous adventures and prickly dealings with authority they are of a kind with a great many Icelandic protagonists in the sagas.47 The decision of Kveldúlf’s grandson, Egil, to leave Iceland is an act of def iance, not a prescribed sentence, 48 but that his departure is accompanied by bad feelings makes it typical of many trips abroad. Egil’s alienating personality and political changes throughout the North Sea force him to call upon all his resourcefulness to extricate himself from sticky situations in both Norway and York as he hurtles from one kingdom to the next, effectively living the life of an outlaw as he outruns any formal acknowledgement as such. Such too is the situation in Hallfreðar saga, where after having gotten into an altercation over a woman, Hallfreð sails to Norway in order to keep the peace. 49 Trips abroad, even if freely taken, often coincide in the sagas with heightened local tensions. Kormák of Kormáks saga goes on a trading journey in the midst of a dispute similar to Hallfreð’s; Óláf Peacock, though a good son and well-regarded by everyone in his community, receives his trip abroad as a consequence of his parents’ squabbles.50 Travels abroad by young men in the sagas are very often occasioned by local strife to which they are party;

45 Egils saga Skallagrímssonar, pp. 68-70. 46 Egils saga Skallagrímssonar, p. 4. Rebecca Merkelbach gives an alternate reading of this generational pattern, in which the outlaw’s unsociability is the result of abusive relationships rather than mystical birthright. ‘Engi maðr skapar sik sjálfr’, pp. 59-93. 47 Larrington, ‘Awkward Adolescents’, pp. 150-151. 48 Egils saga Skallagrímssonar, pp. 102-103. 49 Hallfreðar saga, p. 149. 50 Kormáks saga, pp. 264; and Laxadæla saga, pp. 49-51.



the result is the implication of outlawry – or at least social incompatibility – attached to the protagonists of these stories. The misadventures of these young Icelandic men are examples of pseudooutlawry as defined in the Introduction, and as such there are differences between them and those who earn the lifetime punishment of outlawry.51 The youths are able to return to their communities whenever they wish, and their time abroad is rarely a solitary experience; normally they join up with others like them embarking on similar adventures.52 In Iceland there was a gradation of outlawry less severe than skóggangr that corresponded with these young men’s activities: that was fjörbaugsgarðr, or lesser outlawry, which prescribed an exile of only three years, usually with the understanding that the convicted would be allowed to travel abroad unimpeded.53 The benefits of such a sentence are apparent: fjörbaugsgarðr is a lesser sentence for a more meager or more ambiguous crime, one which held out the possibility for rehabilitation and reacceptance. Even with this option available, however, most sagas do not formally attach the concept of fjörbaugsgarðr to their subjects’ affairs, suggesting imitation rather than identification with outlawry, despite the evident parallels. The most thorough replication of the features of fjörbaugsgarðr can be seen in two separate sagas, Bjarnar saga Hítdælakappa and Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu. In both, the protagonist leaves for abroad with the understanding that his betrothal shall hold for a space of three years before he must return to marry or else otherwise renew the agreement;54 the particularities of the arrangement work like fjörbaugsgarðr in reverse, with the departure voluntary and the young man’s return promising him a reward rather than a punishment from the other interested party (these are love matches rather than unwanted betrothals). The agreements, moreover, ultimately cause conflict rather than resolve it as sentences of lesser outlawry are intended to do. An additional element encouraging a conflation of outlawry with young men’s journeying in the sagas is their behavior during these intervals. Many protagonists use the occasion of a ship well-equipped by their fathers to go a-viking, acting as raiders for a few years and amassing fortune and 51 Pp. 14-15. 52 A popular destination was Norway, where the aggregation of Icelandic youths was so great that King Óláf Tryggvason was essentially able to hold the future generation of Iceland hostage when the island proved difficult to convert in the tenth century. Snorri, Heimskringla, I, pp. 332-333; and Brennu-Njals saga, p. 269. 53 Poilvez connects pseudo-outlawry to fjörbaugsgarðr in ‘Access to the Margins’, pp. 119-120. See also Byock, Viking Age Iceland, p. 231; and Grágás, pp. 89-92. 54 Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu, pp. 61-68; and Bjarnar saga Hítdælakappa, pp. 113-115.

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notoriety in their time abroad.55 Such practices appear to be an excuse for a few years of bad behavior at the outset of adulthood, at the expense of areas outside the jurisdiction of the local polity, to spare the community what was perhaps seen as the inevitable indiscretions of young men. Anthropologists have documented this phenomenon extensively throughout human society since the late nineteenth century. The technical term for these youth groups is Männerbund (pl. Männerbünde), defined as a warrior band consisting of males during their period of transition into adulthood. It is worth pointing out the unfortunately controversial history of this concept, imbued as it has been periodically with racist or anti-feminist sentiments.56 Part of my comfort here in nevertheless using the term is in how, as we shall see, the mobility inherent to the Männerbünde of the North Atlantic manifestly violates any dichotomies between self and other or male and female, despite their supposed specificity in culture and gender. In short, actual Männerbünde were marked by their diversity in both content and concept. They can be observed in the traditions of all North Atlantic residents, though the particulars of each vary from culture to culture. Among Germanic peoples, they appear to operate under the principles of the comitatus, with the additional requirement of youth. Tacitus noted their presence in ancient Germania himself, observing that ‘si civitas, in qua orti sunt, longa pace et otio torpeat, plerique nobilium adulescentium petunt, ultro eas nationes, quae tum bellum aliquod gerunt, quia et ingrata genti quies et facilius inter ancipitia clarescunt’57 (‘if the community in which they were born atrophies under a long period peace and idleness, most of the youth among the nobility seeks out far-off nations that are waging 55 Eyrbyggja saga, pp. 80-81; Vatnsdæla saga, pp. 17-22; and Brennu-Njals saga, pp. 75-83. 56 This term was coined, and the concept f irst expounded, by Schurtz, Altersklassen und Männerbünde; for an overview and criticism of Schurtz, see Lowrie, Primitive Society, pp. 297337. Schurtz examines its possible expression among the Germanic peoples on pp. 110-124, and his work was applied further in this direction by Kauffmann, Deutsche Altertumskunde, I, pp. 437-453 and II, pp. 385-414; Weiser, Altgermanische Jüglingsweihen und Männerbünde; and Höfler, Kultische Geheimbünde der Germanen, Weiser’s work, particularly, is valuable for its exploration of the idea of female Männerbünde early in the history of the concept. Höfler, in contrast, is controversial due to his embrace by (and his embrace of) the National Socialist Party in World War II. On Höfler, see Junginger, ‘Introduction’, pp. 47-50. For modern, critical assessments of the content of these works, see Ginzburg, ‘Germanic Mythology and Nazism’, pp. 126-145; von See, ‘Politische Männerbund-Ideologie’, pp. 93-102; and Harris, ‘Love and Death in the Männerbund’, pp. 78-81. For more contemporary interpretations of the Männerbund, see Tiger, Men in Groups, pp. 126-155; Harris, ‘Love and Death in the Männerbund’, pp. 77-94; McCone, ‘Werewolves, Cyclopes, Díberga, and Fíanna’, pp. 6-15; and McCone, Pagan Past and Christian Present, pp. 203-220. 57 Tacitus, Germania, pp. 152-153.



some kind of war at that time. For quiet and leisure are detestable to these people, as it is in times of strife that they distinguish themselves’). Indeed, the primary purpose of the Männerbund appears to be to create an outlet for young male aggression separate from times and places that enjoy peace. However, there were further purposes to the Männerbund, though its priorities and permutations varied throughout the North Atlantic. Among the Icelanders, while young men in the sagas do occasionally create organizations with initiation rites, rules, and leaders,58 these are the exception, and there is no indication in the sources that to adventure abroad was considered a necessary component of a man’s development. In Ireland, in contrast, the practice appears to have been entirely formalized. Fosterage for young noblemen ran until either their fourteenth or seventeenth year, depending on the source; however, an individual could not own property until age twenty. Within this gap of six to three years, the youth joined the fían, as discussed in the Introduction.59 Kim McCone describes the fían as ‘an independent organization of predominantly landless, unmarried, unsettled, and young men given to hunting, warfare, and sexual licence in the wilds outside the túath’, a characterization that certainly puts it in line with the Männerbund.60 As with the Icelandic outlaw, the fénnid lost all ties to the community.61 Also as in Norse tradition, the fénnid inspired a genre of literature that valorized the life of the outlaw in the tales of Finn MacCumaill;62 and like most of the reckless young men of the saga tradition, the fénnid apparently eventually returned to his community in good standing. The tradition in Anglo-Saxon England varies more considerably from both the Icelandic and the Irish conception of the Männerbund, just as it does with regards to outlawry in general. From the extant sources, the Anglo-Saxon audience appears to have had little interest in a hero styled as an outlaw, despite the presence of the figure in their legal landscape and its prominence in the cultures of their region. While the Anglo-Saxons certainly observed outlawry as a practice, they do not appear to have possessed an outlaw ‘tradition’ such as is expressed in the Finn Cycle of Ireland or in the sagas 58 Jómsvíkinga saga, pp. 28-30; and Harðar saga, pp. 64-65. See also Amory, ‘The Medieval Icelandic Outlaw’, pp. 194-198. Danielli discerns a formalized ritual within such adventures in ‘Initiation Ceremonial from Norse Literature’, pp. 229-245. 59 Pp. 11-12. 60 McCone, ‘Werewolves, Cyclopes, Díberga, and Fíanna’, p. 13. 61 Sjœstedt, Dieux et Héros des Celtes, p. 112. 62 The most extensive collection of Finn material is the Acallam na Senórach, which can be found in Stories from the Acallam; for an examination of the tradition, see Nagy, The Wisdom of the Outlaw.

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of Iceland – or, indeed, in the gests of post-Norman Britain. Anglo-Saxon legal codes attest to outlawry as a punishment, one that was developed and exercised indigenously. While the modern word’s direct Old English cognate, utlah, is a Scandinavian loanword and as such appears only after the Danish invasions,63 the concept of outlawry was still understood and employed prior to that date. The term in these cases was flyma, and the act of outlawing aflieman or afligan, words which emphasized the flight aspect of the sentence.64 Interestingly, there is a clear distinction of usage between flyma and wrecca, with the former used almost exclusively in legal contexts and the latter used in more literary writing.65 A possible way to conceive of the relation between the two words is akin to the distinction between outlawry and exile in the Icelandic context, with wrecca (exile and the complex feelings it evokes) being the logical outcome of being declared a flyma (outlaw). The Anglo-Saxon resistance to valorizing outlaws may be due to the serious implications attached to the figure in their culture, given how they incorporated the practice into one the most important – and tricky – aspects of their governance. Sovereignty was determined in several of the early Anglo-Saxon kingdoms through a consideration of both the lineage and the worthiness of potential candidates. In this process, the successor to a king was not automatically his son, but instead could be anyone of royal blood, defined as anyone at most six generations removed from a previous king. For any transition of power, then, obviously, there would be an enormous 63 Just when the term came into use is a difficult matter, as its earliest supposed appearance, in the ‘Treaty of Edward and Guthrum’ (originally thought c. 900), was demonstrated by Dorothy Whitelock to be a forgery from a century later. See Die Gesetze der Angelsachsen, I, pp. 128-135 for the primary source, with utlah appearing at p. 132. Liebermann gives his reasoning as to the date of the work on III, pp. 86-89, and Whitelock’s reassessment is ‘Wulfstan and the so-called Laws of Edward and Guthrum’, pp. 1-21. The other instances of the word are in twelfth-century manuscripts, though they are thought to be copies of texts from the late tenth century. See Wormald, ‘A handlist of Anglo-Saxon lawsuits’, pp. 247-281, items 43, 50, and 51; for the actual documents, Anglo-Saxon Charters, pp. 68 and 78, items 37 and 40. See also van Houts, ‘The Vocabulary of Exile and Outlawry’, pp. 14-16; and Jones, Outlawry in Medieval Literature, pp. 26 and 169 (note 61). 64 For early (9th and early 10th century) examples of the term in a legal sense, see Alfred’s laws in Die Gesetze der Angelsachsen, I, p. 48; and Select English Historical Documents of the Ninth and Tenth Centuries, p. 32 (item 18). Ælfric glosses the Latin profugus as flyma as well (Aelfrics Grammatik und Glossar: Text und Varianten, p. 179). See also van Houts, ‘The Vocabulary of Exile and Outlawry’, p. 15. 65 In Genesis A, Cain is described as a flema (ASPR 1, line 1020b) as well as a wrecca. A sentence is being pronounced upon him, so perhaps here the legal term is appropriate. The only unambiguous use of wrecca in a legal context is when Cnut’s law describes the utlah as walking a wræcðsið [sic] (‘exile’s journey’). Of course, this example is late and likely influenced by Norse ideas on outlawry and exile, given Cnut’s background. Die Gesetze der Angelsachsen, I, p. 340.



pool of eligible candidates. The way in which the correct monarch would be selected, consequently, would be by weighing their deeds. In theory, the community would then benefit from having a leader of aristocratic lineage who had additionally proven his fitness for the role. In practice, however, such a system could easily lead to conflict.66 What made one a plausible candidate for the kingship were the forms of capital that fueled success in other societal endeavors, and if a young Anglo-Saxon noble desired to rule but felt his prospects dim, then he would have to create a situation wherein he could generate greater capital. The solution, as with the young Icelanders who won fame abroad or the Irish outlaws who grew rich through raiding, was to form a Männerbund. Rulers often hastened this decision by pre-emptively banishing potential rivals. By taking to the forest (by choice or by compulsion) and contending against the king, the young aristocrat put himself in a position to prove himself by his deeds. If successful, he accrued economic, cultural, and social capital – wealth from plunder, skill in warfare, and alliances with other interested parties – which in turn generated symbolic capital, prestige. That prestige in turn helped the man amass even more capital, as a successful warrior with a good reputation earned more gifts, attracted more followers, and had better odds of winning his battles. The process can be seen functioning in the career of Cædwalla, who was driven by King Centwine from the kingdom of the West Saxons in 676. He retreated to the borderlands and attracted a following so large that he was able to destabilize the neighboring region of the South Saxons. In nine years’ time he had deposed Centwine.67 The stakes, therefore, in the Anglo-Saxon Männerbund were high, as was its potential for damage. Yet great reward was achievable to anyone willing to cause a degree of chaos. An aristocratic youth could enter the process an outcast and emerge a king. Such a sea change was possible among the Irish or the Icelanders, but in general the gains of outlawry for them, while valuable, were much more modest. The fían trained its members in essential arts of manhood such as hunting and fighting. Upon his return to the community the fénnid was equipped to protect his family and property and to aid in the defense of his túath. In Icelandic tradition, the young exiles of the sagas are also 66 Chadwick, Studies on Anglo-Saxon Institutions, pp. 292-307; Dumville, ‘The Ætheling: A Study in Anglo-Saxon Constitutional History’, pp. 1-33; Abels, Lordship and Military Obligation in Anglo-Saxon England, pp. 21-23; and Drout, ‘Blood and Deeds’, pp. 204-213. For a look at this issue among the Anglo-Saxons’ Germanic forebears, see Murray, Germanic Kinship Structure. 67 Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, pp. 380-381; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, MS A, pp. 31-32; Abels, Lordship and Military Obligation, p. 22.

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enriched by their time abroad in all of Bourdieu’s categories of capital.68 They have obtained exotic and expensive goods which they do not fail to display or gift when meaning to impress.69 In many cases in their travels they have attached themselves to royal courts, and return to Iceland with the prestige of having served a king and won his approval.70 Yet few in either tradition are shown earning kingship, and when it does happen the result is serendipitous rather than achieved through military campaign. Take, for example, the case of Óláf Peacock in Laxadæla saga. His mother, Melkorka, was once an Irish princess but was captured by slavers and sold to Óláf’s father as a concubine. In urging him to go on a journey, she makes her motive plain – ‘Eigi nenni ek, at þú sér ambáttarsonar kallaðr lengr’ (‘I can no longer bear you being called the son of a slave-woman’) – and Óláf’s journey most certainly addresses her concerns. Quite fortuitously he meets his grandfather Mýrkjartan, who acknowledges him and even offers him the crown. When he returns to Iceland, Óláf is no longer a slave-woman’s son but an acknowledged prince of a foreign realm, one who has impressed the highest of nobility in both Ireland and Norway to the extent that he was deemed fit to be king.71 He has declined the honor, and did not gain it through force of arms, but to criticize his journey on this account would be churlish – for Óláf, the trip has been downright transformational.

The Rite de Passage and Liminality To think of these episodes of pseudo-outlawry as transformational is a useful way to grasp their import. In all cases they occur during the transition from youth to adulthood, and as such correspond quite closely to another anthropological concept, that of Arnold van Gennep’s rite de passage. In involving literal travel in rituals concerning such ‘passage’, the cultures of the medieval North Atlantic epitomize the conceptualization behind 68 The function of these Icelandic journeys for the accruing of capital has been noted by Sørensen, Fortælling og Ære, pp. 224-226; and Glørstad, ‘Homeland – Strange Land – New Land’, pp. 167-169. 69 Óláf Peacock wears clothing given him by King Harald of Norway and a sword from the Irish king Mýrkjartan when seeking the hand of Egil Skallagrímsson’s daughter in Laxadæla saga, p. 64; in Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu, p. 90, Gunnlaug gives his beloved, who he has lost to another man, a cloak from King Æthelred of England. Hallfreð attempts to do the same with a garment from Óláf Tryggvason literally named Konungsnaut (‘king’s gift’) but is rebuffed (Hallfreðar saga, p. 185). See also Eyrbyggja saga, p. 107. 70 Hallfreðar saga, pp. 179-180; and Sneglu-Halla þáttur, pp. 261-295. 71 Laxadæla saga, pp. 50-60.



such acts, which is integrally connected to motion. Van Gennep notes this quality as he begins his study with rituals marking travel across borders, and observes that an understanding of them provides the groundwork towards comprehending the rite de passage as a whole. Thus, it is that many rites serve to mark a transition, rites de marge or rites liminaires (‘rites of the margin’ or ‘liminal rites’). The movements are ‘liminal’ in that they consciously mirror the crossing of a threshold, which ‘doivent être pris sens au sens direct et matériel de rites d’entrée, d’attente et de sortie’72 (‘should be understood in the straightforward and literal sense of rites of entry, processing, and departure’). The journeys that mark these transitions in the lives of the men in North Atlantic literature are a further manifestation of life expressed metaphorically through movements across boundaries. Yet by being liminal, by literally crossing borders and inhabiting borderlands and symbolically representing transitional and transformational moments in life, outlaws occupy a unique position relative to their societies, one that is related to the potentialities associated with travel. As Victor Turner describes it, The attributes of liminality or of liminal personae (‘threshold people’) are necessarily ambiguous, since this condition and these persons elude or slip through the network of classifications that normally locate states and positions in cultural space. Liminal entities are neither here nor there; they are betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed by law, custom, convention, and ceremonial.73

What this ambiguity means is that one occurrence of liminality, such as crossing a border, triggers associations with other acts of transgression. It is in this way that travel can be linked to the crossing over from youth to adulthood. Yet there are many more boundaries possible to transgress and distinctions capable of blurring. There is, as has already been noted above, the difference between human and animal that is often confused in the characterization of outlaws. The association is carried over onto outlaw bands. The fíana of Ireland were compared to wolves and other creatures.74 In 72 van Gennep, Les Rites de Passage, pp. 1-33, with the quotes on pp. 14 and 33. Poilvez also makes the connection between van Gennep and Icelandic pseudo-outlawry in ‘Access to the Margins’, p. 120. 73 Turner, The Ritual Process, p. 95. See also Turner, The Forest of Symbols, pp. 93-111; and Nagy, Wisdom of the Outlaw, pp. 20-21. 74 McCone, ‘Werewolves, Cyclopes, Díberga, and Fíanna’, pp. 15-22. This is also the context in which raiders in Togail Bruidne Da Derga busy themselves oc fáelad (‘wolfing’).

Outlawry and Liminality in the North Atlantic


Iceland, Snorri Sturluson wrote of the berserkgangr, or berserk-gang, warriors ‘galnir sem hundar eða vargar […] sterkir sem birnir eða griðungar’ (‘frenzied like dogs or wolves […] [and] strong as bears or bulls in heat’), faithful to the war-god Óðin.75 The association moves beyond simile in Völsunga saga, where Sigmund (the Icelandic analogue to the wrecca Sigemund in Beowulf ) considers his ward Sinfjötli ‘of ungr til hefnda með sér ok vill nú fyrst venja hann með nokkut harðræði’ (‘too young to wreak vengeance with him and wanted therefore to accustom him to some hardship first’). As a solution, he and Sinfjötli create a Männerbund: ‘fara nú um sumrum víða um skóga ok drepa menn til fjár sér’ (‘they then traveled widely in the summers through the forests and killed men for their money’). In the course of this raiding that serves as Sinfjötli’s rite de passage, they steal some wolfskins that magically transform them into wolves, and it is in this form that they accomplish many feats in a kingdom in which they were unwelcome.76 Just as the episode illustrates an indeterminacy between child and adult in the course of Sinfjötli’s outlawry, so too does it with respect to man and beast. Gender roles are also more easily surmounted in a liminal space. Outlaws have often been associated with a blurring of gender lines,77 and within Anglo-Saxon literature it is striking how many stories of female exiles remain extant. Moreover, these female outlaws are not all of one type. Most well-known are the mysterious interlocutors of The Wife’s Lament and Wulf and Eadwacer, whose precise situations are difficult to determine yet employ the language of the wrecca to their ends.78 Like the speakers in the other elegies, those featured in these pieces express sadness and dissatisfaction with their consignment to liminal space – to an island between land and water or to a dugout between land and air. Yet the space also permits them to adopt the poetic voice, and imagines a place for women wherein their traditional gender roles do not apply (whether this reflects an actual practice of banishing women in Anglo-Saxon England is difficult to determine).79 Power, too, as we have seen, is granted through liminality, 75 Snorri, Heimskringla, I, pp. 17. Danielli explores the possible ritualistic significance behind the berserkgangr in ‘Inititation Ceremonial from Norse Literature’, pp. 229-245; the berserks were identified early on as a form of Männerbund by Weiser, Altgermanische Jünglingsweihen und Männerbünde, pp. 43-81. 76 Völsunga saga, pp. 123-124. See also Deichl, ‘The Very Image of the Völsungs’, pp. 225-228. 77 Nagy, The Wisdom of the Outlaw, pp. 46-51 and 90-98; and Diechl, ‘The Very Image of the Völsungs’, pp. 224-225. 78 Wulf and Eadwacer and The Wife’s Lament, ASPR 3, pp. 179-180 and 210-211. 79 For some considerations of these issues, see Desmond, ‘The Voice of Exile’, pp. 572-590; Bennet, ‘Exile and the Semiosis of Gender in Old English Elegies’, pp. 43-58; and Scheck, ‘Seductive Voices’, pp. 220-227.



as other Anglo-Saxon women travelers attest. Judith, for example, in effect leaves her identity behind as she crosses enemy lines, and is able therefore to present herself as whatever is necessary to get her grisly deed done. This includes abandoning the conventions of her gender, as the bravery and violence she commits while in the Assyrian camp is quite unlike the usual behavior displayed by women in Anglo-Saxon literature and much more common for a man.80 The one historical example we have of a female exile in Anglo-Saxon England is Emma, wife of both Æthelred II and Cnut. Her Encomium Emmae reginae was written to make her case once her attempts to raise her sons to the throne resulted in her exile from England. Emma’s ability to travel and the power she wielded as queen, regent, and queen mother were inextricably linked, and both are what made her a threat. Her Encomium was an attempt to use her banishment to increase her power. Travel, therefore, and especially outlawry, allowed women to occupy the traditional roles of men, just as it placed men in other contexts into the place of animals. Outlaw heroes similarly often violate other societal dichotomies such as sacred/profane, land/water, and even good/evil or life/death.81 The liminality observed here is indiscriminate, yet it is of a part with the opportunity afforded by travel to accrue enough capital to change one’s position in society. Those who embark upon rites de passage have the potential to transform themselves in seemingly limitless ways.

The Potential and Threat of the Liminal Yet the volatility in their identities that makes outlaws so full of promise is also what makes them threatening figures. By occupying the position opposite society and its structures, the liminal entity can represent a threat to proper order, and the state of transition in which he or she exists an intolerable chaos. Gloria Anzaldúa assumes a link between society’s undesirables and the transience of the borderlands when she proclaims its denizens to be ‘the prohibited and forbidden […] the squint-eyed, the perverse, the queer, the troublesome, the mongrel, the mulato, the half-breed, the half dead; in short, those who cross over, pass over, or go through the confines of the “normal”’. Those who are ‘half’ – as the outlaws of North Atlantic literature are half one category, half another – are presented with the opportunity to 80 Judith, ASPR 4, pp. 99-109. 81 Extensive discussion of this aspect of the outlaw tradition can be found in Nagy, The Wisdom of the Outlaw, pp. 89-110; and Jones, Outlawry in Medieval Literature, pp. 89-110.

Outlawry and Liminality in the North Atlantic


take on a unique perspective as one who chooses to be rejected by society.82 Anzaldúa describes this as a special knowledge, one that allows the liminal figure to disregard the ‘borders and walls that are supposed to keep the undesirable ideas out [that] are entrenched habits and patterns of behavior’. As a result, he or she is able to connect previously unrelated ideas, tolerate ambiguity, and resolve contradictions that the society would not normally be able to conceive or countenance.83 To do so appears to the uninitiated to be non-intuitive or even otherworldly – both Anzaldúa and Turner claim that societies classify the strengths of the liminal as ‘magico-religious’84 – and as such the exercise of liminal powers is both coveted and feared. Such is the case for Finn mac Cumhaill the legendary fénnid, who obtained his own supernatural powers through his engagement with the liminal.85 The phenomenon is a manifestation of Bourdieu’s conception of capital in relation to foreign travel performed entirely in the abstract: those crossing boundaries accumulate a talent (cultural capital) that is easily converted to symbolic capital due to the awe it invokes. However, as with other abilities predicated upon motion, it is a power that cannot be monopolized by those in authority; indeed, the benefits of liminality are such that they are most abundant in the weakest and least esteemed within a society.86 Rites de passage such as the pseudo-outlawry of Icelandic youth, the fíana of Ireland, or the political exiles in Anglo-Saxon England, are attempts to claim liminal abilities for the establishment, to give the heirs to political power access to knowledge and skills that would be lost to them if they never engaged with the antithesis to their respectable, privileged, and secure lives as aristocrats. As Timothy S. Jones says, the liminal is ‘a region where the standard strictures of culture do not apply, yet a place where they are learned’.87 Yet while undergoing this process, liminality affords these young men a degree of menace they otherwise would not have. W.T.H. Jackson reads the central conflict of Western epic as being the tension between the king as ‘preserver of stability’ and the young warrior as the ‘dynamic intruder’ whose presence and independence implicitly threatens usurpation. Valerie B. Johnson, applying the work of Giorgio Agamben, identifies the potentiality of such a figure with the Northern European outlaw – ‘an outsider whose power is lesser 82 Anzaldúa, Borderlands/ La Frontera, pp. 25, 41 and 60-61. 83 Anzaldúa, Borderlands/ La Frontera, p. 101. 84 Anzaldúa, Borderlands/ La Frontera, p. 41; and Turner, The Ritual Process, p. 108. 85 Nagy, The Wisdom of the Outlaw, pp. 17-40. 86 Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera, pp. 41, 60-61 and 101; and Turner, The Ritual Process, pp. 108-111. 87 Jones, ‘Fighting Men, Fighting Monsters’, p. 200. Also Poilvez, ‘Access to the Margins’, p. 120.



than the sovereign’s but capable of challenging it’. The interloper is always accompanied by a retinue of moderate size, and while they invariably aid the community with their contribution, the danger that the Männerbund will overwhelm the polity is always there.88 And as a historical matter, in the early centuries of Anglo-Saxon England, the threat of a coup by the leader of a Männerbund was real. Perhaps for this reason we do not see so thorough an embrace of the outlaw in Anglo-Saxon literature as we do in Irish and Icelandic tradition. The protagonist of Beowulf, for example, would seem to have all the hallmarks of a youth undergoing a rite de passage through participation in a Männerbund: he ventures abroad leading a small band of followers and aids a king whose position he might easily usurp. In many ways his experience parallels many of the adventures of youths of the Icelandic sagas.89 His crew of fourteen is a Männerbund – Beowulf is the oldest among them – set loose abroad to meet with adventure, and just as many of these men go abroad in times of domestic strife, Beowulf has done so over his adoptive father’s objections. Little is said about Beowulf’s life in Geatland before his expedition, but what there is has suggested that his early years were unimpressive.90 All this changes after his journey, which displays a high degree of liminality as Beowulf crosses a number of boundaries and blurs distinctions – as a Geat he journeys into Denmark, as a man he proves more powerful than a beast, and in pursuing Grendel’s mother he, a being of the land, crosses into her territory and demonstrates mastery of the water (as he did earlier with Brecca as well). As Neville terms it, he is ‘outside’ – comfortable in the outdoors within inimical nature and in some way separate from humanity because of it.91 Upon successfully completing these transitions, he returns home with riches, experience, warm ties with Denmark, and a wisdom about the affairs of kingship that he shares with Hygelac just as generously as he shares his prizes. The text comments on this transformation explicitly, and then transitions quickly to Beowulf’s ascendancy to the kingship, effectively characterizing his later political success as the consequence of his earlier feats of arms.92

88 Jackson, The Hero and the King, pp. 13-16; and Johnson, ‘Agamben’s Homo sacer, the “State of Exception”, and the Modern Robin Hood’, p. 218. 89 Danielli says as much in ‘Initiation Ceremonial from Norse Literature’, pp. 241-243. 90 Beowulf, lines 258-285, 1992b-1997a and 2183b-2188a. 91 Neville, Representations of the Natural World in Old English Poetry, pp. 90 and 129-133. See also Swisher, ‘Beyond the Hoar Stone’, pp. 133-136. 92 Beowulf, lines 1199-2069a and 2144-2210a.

Outlawry and Liminality in the North Atlantic


Yet despite that this is a factual recounting of Beowulf, in the actual emphasis of the story there is little to support the identification of Beowulf as a youthful outlaw figure. M.S. Griffith frames this point in somewhat related terms when he observes that, though the Beowulf-poet was comfortable with applying the label to other heroes, he declines to describe Beowulf as a wrecca like Sigemund.93 Moreover, Beowulf differs from the outlaw in the absolute respectability of his endeavors. Whatever the relation of wrecca to the concept of outlawry, Beowulf is lacking some quality that both words share. Griffith sees the distinction as being that ‘Beowulf’s deeds are socially purposeful, whilst Sigemund’s seem to take place apart from society’.94 Beowulf is identified with his community, while the outlaw is understood as existing outside it.95 Unlike the protagonists of outlaw tales, Beowulf does not embrace the antisocial aspects of his position, despite its similarities – indeed, the poem highlights his sobriety and seriousness, not his rebelliousness or recklessness.96 Jackson observes that, while Beowulf fulfills all other aspects of the young hero archetype exemplified by such rebels as Achilles or Sigemund, he purposefully avoids challenging the throne.97 If so, then his conduct is a complete repudiation of the early Anglo-Saxon practice of succession, wherein the entire point of gathering a group of men and fighting was to win a kingship. Beowulf, in contrast, earns a crown twice and demurs twice. In light of this contrast, Beowulf can be conceivably read as Frederick M. Biggs would have it, as an extended critique of the traditional forms of succession.98 Wrecca, therefore, is simultaneously an expansive term yet one with definite limits in Anglo-Saxon use. Its core meaning – expulsion – relates it to a wide array of concepts important in the North Atlantic: exile, adventuring, 93 Griffith, ‘Some Difficulties in Beowulf ’, pp. 38-41. Other men described as wreccan in Beowulf are Hengest in the Finn digression, and the brothers Eanmund and Eadgils. Beowulf, lines 1137b, 2379b and 2613a. 94 Griffith, ‘Some Difficulties in Beowulf ’, p. 40. 95 McCone, relying on Sjœstedt, makes a similar distinction between Finn Mac Cumaill (‘hero outside the tribe’) and Cúchulainn (‘hero within the tribe’) in Irish tradition. ‘Werewolves, Cyclopes, Díberga, and Fíanna’, p. 8; and Dieux et Héros des Celtes, pp. 79-121. 96 See, for example, Beowulf, lines 2177-2183a. Hrothgar’s sermon at lines 1700-1784 is likewise opposed in its spirit to the defiance seen in the heroes of the sagas. 97 Jackson, The Hero and the King, pp. 31 and 123. A nuanced reading of the dynamics at play between Beowulf and Hrothgar – one which argues for the cultural propriety of Hrothgar’s role and actions as much as Beowulf’s – is Hill, ‘The King and the Warrior’, pp. 65-82. 98 Biggs has laid out his case in a series of articles, including ‘The Naming of Beowulf and Ecgtheow’s Feud’, pp. 95-112; ‘Beowulf’s Fight with the Nine Nicors’, pp. 311-328; ‘Beowulf and some Fictions of the Geatish Succession’, pp. 55-77; ‘Hondscioh and Æschere in Beowulf ’, pp. 635-652; and ‘The Politics of Succession in Beowulf and Anglo-Saxon England’, pp. 709-741.



coming of age, outlawry. As one forced to transgress, the wrecca carries with it the core dilemma of the average mover, with involvement with the foreign perhaps not the aim but nevertheless a feature of such an existence. Because of this, liminality and its associations are bound up in it, and so consequently customs like the Männerbund and the rite de passage co-opt the qualities of outlaws to advance their own social ends. Yet, with Beowulf, we see that such associations have their limits, especially within Anglo-Saxon literature. However, liminality here has been diverted, not stifled, and the concept had other outlets for expression in the North Atlantic. In this case, moreover, the indigenous traditions of the North Atlantic prove their own openness to outside influence, as the older customs combine with innovations brought from abroad to create a new, Christian, liminal figure.


Imitating Exile in Early Medieval Ireland

Ailithre, Penance, and Punishment In 891, three Irishmen washed up on the coast of Cornwall in a hide boat. Their vessel held neither oars nor supplies, but the story they told onlookers was not one of accident at sea. Instead, they claimed to have placed themselves in this perilous position because, in their words, ‘hi woldon for Godes lufan on elþiodignesse beon’ (‘they wished to be on pilgrimage for the sake of God’s love’). Setting out on the sea, and the lack of conveyance, was entirely their own doing. They had given themselves enough food for seven days, but it had run out before they reached the British shore. Finding themselves in England, the three men made straight for the court of King Alfred.1 These men were not outlaws. Nevertheless, whether they realized it or not, their actions imitated a form of criminal exile. The practice which the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle renders as elþiodignes for Godes lufan is a translation of the Latin peregrinatio pro amore Dei (‘peregrination for the sake of God’s love’), a common description in Irish texts of what was known in the vernacular as ailithre.2 Ailithre was a type of pilgrimage peculiar to the early medieval North Atlantic, often associated exclusively with the Irish of the first few centuries of their Christianization.3 Despite its identification with the Irish, ailithre can often be found attached to interpretations of Anglo-Saxon society as well, a potential influence which will be considered later. 4 As a practice, however, and as a literary trope, ailithre served as a vehicle (both literally and figuratively) for exploring questions of proper conduct in the newly Christian North Atlantic. 1 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, MS A, p. 54. 2 Whitelock, ‘The Interpretation of The Seafarer’, pp. 263-272. For discussions of ailithre in general see Hughes, ‘The Changing Theory and Practice of Irish Pilgrimage’, pp. 143-151; Charles-Edwards, ‘The Social Background to Irish Peregrinatio’, pp. 94-108; and Richter, Ireland and her Neighbours in the Seventh Century, pp. 41-47. 3 It is generally held that ailithre flourished in Ireland until Viking attacks and the Benedictine reforms brought in with the céli Dé movement (both of which began in the late eighth century and strengthened through the ninth) tamped down the more adventurous aspects of Irish monasticism. Hughes, ‘The Changing Theory and Practice of Irish Pilgrimage’, pp. 146-147; and Bray, ‘Allegory in the Navigatio Sancti Brendani’, pp. 181-182. 4 Pp. 105-108. See especially Whitelock, ‘The Interpretation of The Seafarer’.



Latin manuscripts referred to ailithre as peregrinatio,5 which is often translated ‘pilgrimage’ in modern English. This term is not technically incorrect, yet it often lends itself to confusion due to a broader understanding of pilgrimage in the sixth through eighth centuries. Its modern definition – as a journey undertaken for devotional purposes to a shrine or other site of religious import – is largely anachronistic for the period of early Irish Christianity. While examples can be found in this time of Christians traveling to locations for devotional purposes, this act was not yet considered a specific practice, and many of the concepts which would underlie it – such as the cult of relics or papal indulgence – had not yet been realized or existed in forms that would not yet support widespread devotional travel.6 In Ireland the word instead held true to its original, classical definition of wandering.7 Ailithre, and peregrinatio in an early medieval Irish context, simply means traveling, or being a foreigner, and accordingly what distinguishes ailithre from the traditional understanding of peregrinatio is its lack of destination. While usual pilgrimage has a definite geographic goal in mind, the point of ailithre appears to have been the state of being in motion itself.8 The impulse was penitential, as the act of traveling deprived one of many of the comforts denied in a typical sedentary fast or vow of solitude, with the added benefit of removing all the more emphatically the agents of temptation. As Dorothy Whitelock says, speaking of the practice in the context of Anglo-Saxon literature, ‘while earthly success may cause a man to forget the purpose of his being in the world, may lull him to a trust in material things, the man at sea will be in no such danger, and the [Seafarer’s] poet’s heart urges him to leave his native land to seek a foreign country across the sea for this very reason’.9 The key, then, to this type of devotional travel was the very absence from the home, rather than any specific destination. 5 See, for example, Jonas, Vita sancti Columbani, p. 156. 6 Indulgences were not introduced until 1095. See Dyas, Pilgrimage in Medieval English Literature, pp. 37-65, 95-104 and 128-145. 7 For classical understandings of peregrinatio, see Claussen, ‘“Peregrinatio” and “Peregrini” in Augustine’s “City of God”’, pp. 35-37; and Brito-Martins, ‘The Concept of peregrinatio in Saint Augustine and its Influences’, pp. 83-87. 8 Because of this difference, Brian Ó Broin has argued against the designation peregrinatio for this practice due to its confusion with standard pilgrimage; likewise, he argues for a change in understanding of the Old Irish term ailithre (also usually translated ‘pilgrimage’), so that it reflects the particular Irish custom. ‘Pilgimage in Deed, but Perhaps Not Word: The Ailithrech as Servant of Rome’. To avoid confusion, I too will use the Irish term to designate peregrinatio pro amore Dei, even when peregrinatio or other terms are used, to emphasize the particularity of the practice. 9 Whitelock, ‘The Interpretation of The Seafarer’, p. 265.

Imitating Exile in Early Medieval Ireland


For this reason, ailithre was less like traditional pilgrimage, in which the practitioner normally returns to his or her home community, and more akin to exile. This is clearly the sense in which Patrick intends the term in his Confessio when he says ‘ut ego ueneram ad Hybernas gentes euangelium praedicare, et ab incredulis contumelias perferre, ut au[di]rem obprobium peregrinationis meae’10 (‘and so I would come to proclaim the Gospel to the Irish people and to bear the abuse of unbelievers, so that I would hear invective upon my peregrination’). Though Patrick uses the term peregrinatio, he cannot mean it in the modern sense of ‘pilgrimage’, since he would have been hard-pressed to find a Christian holy site in the Ireland he came to convert. Instead, it is the movement among hostile strangers that makes Patrick’s mission a peregrinatio, an ailithre. That the evangelist to the Irish should understand the term in this way speaks to the antiquity of the idea, and suggests that it did not originate in Ireland. As we shall see, the conception of ailithre owes much to the influence of the Desert Fathers. However, there were more proximate models for potential ailithraig (practitioners of ailithre; sg. ailithir). Going adrift upon the ocean was a form of punishment in early Christian Ireland. This was the penalty meted out, for example, to Patrick’s opponent Mac Cuill in both Muirchú maccu Macthéni’s Vita Patricii and the Tripartite Life.11 In the former, Patrick’s justification for the action is that ‘non possum iudicare sed Deus iudicabit’ (‘I cannot judge but God shall judge’), and, as Mary E. Byrne observes, the punishment in the law codes appears to be prescribed when those judging are unsure as to whether a crime constitutes a capital offense due to questions of intent, mercy, or pity.12 In these cases, as Patrick’s statement makes clear, it was decided to take the decision out of the hands of mortals and leave the person’s fate to God. They would either die out at sea or wash ashore in a foreign land, with slavery the likeliest of outcomes in that event. That the devout would subject themselves to the same travails voluntarily makes sense when one remembers that ailithre was above all a penitential act. Such principles appear to have persisted into the late ninth century. One poem, attributed to Cormac mac Cuilennáin, bishop-king of Cashel, depicts penance similarly. He asks God, 10 Patrick, ‘The Confession of St. Patrick’, p. 367. 11 Muichú maccu Macthéni, p. 104; and The Tripartite Life of Patrick, p. 222. 12 A famous example of this punishment is found in § 45 of the Cáin Adamnáin, p. 30-31. For others see Byrne, ‘On the Punishment of Sending Adrift’, pp. 24-25; and Charles-Edwards, ‘The Social Background to Irish Peregrinatio’, pp. 99-100. Forced pilgrimage as a punishment is also discussed in Hughes, ‘The Changing Theory and Practice of Irish Pilgrimage’, pp. 145-146.



In timger celebrad coir d’innsi moir mac Miled muaidh? innamtairber fo Christ cuing ria techt tar tuind maro ruaidh? Shall I bid a proper farewell to the great island of the Sons of Míl [Ireland]? Should I place myself under Christ’s yoke before going over the terrible sea’s wave?

The placing under a yoke is, as the next stanza makes clear, confession, a ‘comal cruaid’ (a ‘harsh compact’) whose absolution is suffering upon the sea and a fate upon an unknown shore: In tiur mo laim do cach crecht for bru tuinde toirbe barc? in fuiceb oc maro mur slicht mo da glun isin tracht? An toigeb mo curchan ciar os oigen uchtletan an? in rag, a Ri richid réil, as mo toil fein foran sal?13 Shall I put my hand for every wound upon the boundary of the terrible destroyer of boats? Shall I leave at the sea’s edge the track of my two knees upon the shore? Shall I release my little black coracle onto the wide bosom of the waters? Oh bright King of heaven, shall I choose of my own volition the conveyance of the sea?

Penance is, after all, paying a penalty for one’s sins, and that the holy should treat themselves as criminals so as to demonstrate their humility is a core concept of Christianity, exemplified in Christ’s own public execution. Early medieval Christianity emphasized this aspect of the faith, with churchmen especially embracing the imagery of the servus Dei, slave of God, in their behavior and their dress. In Ireland, tonsure appears to have existed among 13 Cormac mac Cuilennáin, Uga Corbmaic meic Cuilendáin, p. 54 and 59. Portions of the poem are preserved in the Book of Ballymote, the Yellow Book of Lecan, and Cormac’s Glossary, but the entire work is found only in the sixteenth-century RIA MS 23 N 10, pp. 17-18. See also Ní Mhaonaigh, ‘Cormac mac Cuilennan’, pp. 116-118.

Imitating Exile in Early Medieval Ireland


the priestly class prior to Christianity; yet it also designated one a slave. Devoting oneself to God (or gods) was the adoption of a liminal identity and the acceptance of hardship – the taking up of a ‘yoke’.14

The Desert Sea As noted, the Old Irish ailithre, like the classical Latin peregrinatio and unlike the modern English pilgrimage, encompassed a wide variety of activity. The experience of Mac Cuill, and of the three Irishmen in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, where but one version, the most extreme and the most akin to indigenous forms of punishment. Other forms more fully reflected both outside and Christian influence. The Irish, of course, were not the first to demonstrate devotion to the Christian God through ascetic action. In addition to its borrowing from local practice, ailithre was also influenced by the tradition of the Desert Fathers.15 The main difference from these earlier exemplars, however, was that one did not need to pursue seclusion to be considered an ailithir. Instead, the necessary component was hardship away from one’s home. It appears that the Irish adopted a form of asceticism that marked the early years of the practice in Egypt. Yet, while wandering was eventually discredited in Egypt and abandoned in favor of eremiticism,16 the Irish embraced mobility. Both communities considered their extreme penance a type of martyrdom, and ailithre itself can be seen as a variation upon the Irish idea of glasmartre, ‘green martyrdom’, a form of intense penitential asceticism.17 The equivalency can be seen in the Vita of the seventh-century saint Mochoemoc when one individual who ‘egit 14 In a secular sense, shorn hair in Ireland denoted either a slave, a youth, or someone punished. See Nagy, ‘Demne Mael’, pp. 8-11; and Sayers, ‘Early Irish Attitudes toward Hair and Beards, Baldness and Tonsure’, pp. 164, 173-4 and 177. For discussions of the tonsure’s association with slavery or low status in general, see Riley, ‘Tonsure’, XIV, p. 110; James, ‘Bede and the Tonsure Question’, pp. 93-95; and Mills, ‘The Signification of Tonsure’, pp. 114-115. 15 In the Naviagtio sancti Brendani, the voyagers encounter an ascetic in isolation upon an island who is known as St. Paul the Hermit. Carl Selmer identifies him as St. Paul of Thebes; if so, then here is an instance in which the Irish, by placing Paul fully within Irish milieu and practice, reveal no distinction between their eremiticism and that of the Desert Fathers. However, the biography of Paul the Hermit given in the Navigatio makes it clear that he is an Irishman and a disciple of St. Patrick, so his correspondence with Paul of Thebes cannot be certain. Pp. 70-76 and 91. 16 Caner, Wandering, Begging Monks, pp. 19-49. 17 For ‘green martyrdom’, see Gougaud, Devotional and Ascetic Practices in the Middle Ages, pp. 215-217; and Siewers, ‘Desert Islands’, pp. 44-48.



penitentiem’ (‘performs penance’) declares to the saint that ‘ego paciar libenter martirium, siue in peregrinacionem ibo longinquam, si iusseris’18 (‘I will commit freely to martyrdom or go on a long peregrination, if you command [it]’). It is also evident in one seventh-century litany of ‘pilgrim’ saints, who are nearly all identifiable for their wanderings save for a few known only for their sedentary asceticism.19 A fuller idea of the Irish conflation of travel and asceticism can be seen in the Betha Coluim Cille (‘Life of Colum Cille [Columba]’), a homily for the saint’s feast day in the Book of Lismore.20 It begins with a disquisition on ailithre. Whitley Stokes translates the word as ‘pilgrimage’, but it is clearly not meant in the modern sense. Its starting point is a consideration of Genesis 12.1 – ‘Exi de terra tua et de domo patris tua, et uade in terram quam tibi monstrauero’ (‘Leave your land and your father’s house and go into the land that I will indicate for you’) – and it uses Abraham and saints Paul and Antony to exemplify adherence to this command. None of the experiences of these three men are pilgrimage by modern lights, but what is more important is that their experiences are not very similar among themselves either. Yet the text treats them as essentially the same. It subdivides ailithre into three different types two times, but in neither case is one’s specific goal or reason for leaving home (aside from demonstrating devotion to God) important for designating a form of the practice. In one case, forms of ailithre are distinguished by their inspiration, whether by God, man, or necessity. So it is that Paul and Antony in the Book of Lismore are the same in that they exemplify ‘gresacht 7 adhannadh na daine on rath diadha co tecait do fhoghnam don Coimdid iar ndeismirecht Phoil 7 Antoin manaig 7 na n-uili manach n-irisech olcena nofhognad do Dia thall isin Eghipt’21 (‘the inciting and inspiring of individuals through God’s grace to perform service to the Lord after the example of Paul and Antony the monk and the other faithful monks besides who served God there in Egypt’). Paul’s gregarious 18 Vita sancti Mochoemog, I, p. 173. While the vita is a biography of an early saint and preserves some pre-Christian qualities – therefore suggesting an early composition date – the two manuscripts from which it comes are from the fifteenth century. See Plummer, Introduction, Vitae sanctorum Hiberniae, I, pp. ix-xiv and lxxviii-lxxix. 19 Litany of Irish Saints – II, pp. 60-67; see also Hughes, ‘On an Irish Litany of Pilgrim Saints Compiled c. 800’, pp. 305-331. 20 This should not be confused with the later Betha Colaim Chille by Manus O’Donnell. The Book of Lismore was written in the fifteenth century, but is copied from earlier works, including the lost Book of Monasterboice. Its contents are normally held to be from the early Middle Ages. Stokes, Introduction to Lives of Saints from the Book of Lismore; and Macalister, Introduction, The Book of Mac Carthaigh Riabhach, pp. ix-xxv. 21 Betha Coluim Cille, Lives of Saints from the Book of Lismore, pp. 20-21.

Imitating Exile in Early Medieval Ireland


evangelization 22 and Antony’s antisocial hermitage are, in the rubric of ailithre, entirely undifferentiated. So too is the case for those who are forced into hardship such as ‘sin popuil Israel rocomshoi cusin Coimdhe o adhrad idhal 7 arracht iarna coimeicnigud ona treablaitibh 7 ona documhlaib fuair cach a cinélaib echtrannaib’23 (‘the people of Israel reverted to the Lord from the adoration of idols and abominations due to privation from disease and suffering they all encountered in foreign countries’). Despite everything that makes these figures all unlike one another, their common denominator and the most important aspect in the concept of ailithre is their separation from their respective cultures and acceptance of hardship through travel. That physical absence and motion away should be emphasized in the renunciation of sins in Ireland may have to do with native notions concerning degrees of separation. While Antony, for example, removed himself from Egyptian society, there is no suggestion conveyed in Athanasius’ Vita that he left Egypt itself. He crossed no aquatic boundary, either the Mediterranean or Red Sea, and he did not travel far enough south through the vast and undefined frontier of the desert to be considered to have left Egypt proper. The Irish, in contrast, had a clear demarcation of their world in their island’s coast which they developed into a conceptual dichotomy and codified into law. Irish law recognized several types of individual outside the túath (‘community’), delineated in part by their origin within or without the island. One designated an ambue or deorad was a visitor or exile from elsewhere in Ireland, whereas the cú glas or muirchuirthe was foreign.24 All four, to one extent or another, were conflated with the outlaw, and like the outlaw had no rights within the túath. There was one exception, granted to a subset known as the deorad Dé, the ‘exile of God’. As the name suggests, this was an individual who wandered voluntarily due to a holy calling, and as such was accorded a high level of honor.25 Legally a deorad Dé could come to the túath from Ireland or abroad, but in other texts a finer distinction is made. In Jonas’ Vita Columbani, written at Columbanus’ Bobbio in the mid-seventh century, an Irish nun who advises the future wandering saint 22 I take the Paul named here to be Paul the Apostle as opposed to Paul of Thebes, even though this latter Paul’s experience is more in line with that of Antony. Yet if this were the Paul meant, one should expect to see him described as a monk (manach, genitive singular manaig) as is Antony. 23 Betha Coluim Cille, Lives of Saints from the Book of Lismore, p. 21. 24 Charles-Edwards, ‘The Social Background to Irish Peregrinatio’, pp. 97-100. See also Kelly, A Guide to Early Irish Law, pp. 5-6. 25 Charles-Edwards, ‘The Social Background to Irish Peregrinatio’, p. 103; and Kelly, A Guide to Early Irish Law, p. 41.



describes her cell in her home country as a peregrinationis locus (‘place of pilgrimage’) but identifies one that is potior (‘better’) – a peregrinationis locus that exists beyond the sea.26 This is in line with the second categorization of ailithre in the Betha Coluim Cille, which delineates between those who leave their homeland in spirit only (like Columbanus’ mentoring nun), those in body only, and those who manage to divorce both their bodies and minds from the entanglements of their birth countries. While the first type is acceptable and the second wins the traveler no reward, the third, representing the most profound separation of the three, is determined to be the best.27 As these works reveal, Irish churchmen28 took the ideal of the Desert Fathers and modified it to their particular circumstances, privileging a devotional practice that takes its inherent asceticism and compounds it with the outlaw’s sense of social alienation. Columbanus eventually took that journey to a potior peregrinationis locus. However, the concept continued to support a number of variations on the theme of alienation.29 One type, exemplified by Columbanus and perhaps modeled after Paul, was often synonymous with missionary work; in the sixth and seventh centuries, Irish churchmen left the island in large numbers to evangelize and organize communities in Britain and the Continent.30 In addition to Columbanus, exemplars of this movement include some of the most well-known and influential figures of the age. There was St. Columba, Columbanus’ near-namesake and contemporary, who went physically if not culturally abroad to the Irish settlement of Dál Riata in Britain to found Iona and proselytize among the Picts.31 Following his example in Britain were countless others including those known from historical sources – Aidán, Adomnán, Fursa, Finán, Colmán, and others.32 It was the efforts of these 26 Jonas, Vita sancti Columbani, p. 156. 27 Betha Coluim Cille, Lives of Saints from the Book of Lismore, p. 21. 28 Jonas was an Italian, but he had been raised in the Irish tradition and was relaying the circumstances of Columbanus’ Irish upbringing. Richter, Ireland and Her Neighbours, p. 43; for a broader consideration of the persistence of Irish practice at Bobbio, see pp. 177-181. 29 For discussions of ailithre in its various forms, see Whitelock, ‘The Interpretation of The Seafarer’, pp. 267-271; and Hughes, ‘The Church in Irish Society, 400-800’, pp. 321-322. 30 The most thorough exploration of this phenomenon is found in Richter, Ireland and Her Neighbours, pp. 41-134. 31 He traveled ‘de Scotia ad Brittanniam pro Christo peregrinari volens’ (‘wishing [to be] a peregrinus from Ireland to Britain for Christ’). Adomnán, Vita Sancta Columbae, pp. 5-6. For doubts as to whether cultural considerations and return trips to Ireland made this a true ailithre, see Richter, Ireland and Her Neighbours, pp. 43-44. 32 Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, pp. 218-221 and 255-267 for Aidán; pp. 504-509 for Adomnán; pp. 268-277 for Fursa; pp. 294-295 for Finán; pp. 296-309 for Colmán; pp. 278-281 for others. See also Richter, Ireland and Her Neighbours, pp. 48-108.

Imitating Exile in Early Medieval Ireland


Irish who fostered the Christian conversion of Northumbria, and their influence remained long after the Synod of Whitby in 664.33 Columbanus, for his part, traveled much further and into Frankish territory, where he founded Luxeuil and Bobbio. He was the first of many expatriate Irish clerics to earn prestige abroad, a model for the Irish intellectuals of the ninth century in the courts of Charlemagne and his progeny. These included Dicuil, who wrote De mensura orbis terrae, and the theologian Johannes Scottus Eriugena (‘John the Irishman, in Ireland born’). There was also Sedulius Scottus, who wrote poems in praise of Bishop Hartgar of Liège for taking in travelers such as himself and his itinerant countrymen Fergus, Blandus, Marcus, and Beuchell.34 Yet these known and named figures were only a portion of the Irish exodus; the presence of Irish-born scholars on the Continent and in Britain is reflected in the presence of so many early Irish-language manuscripts in these places, far more than in Ireland itself.35 Irish intellectuals also appear to have been fixtures at foreign courts, not always to the pleasure of the others in attendance. In one example, Theodulf, the bishop of Orléans 798-818, inveighed against the ‘Scottus sottus cottus’ (‘drunken Irish fool’) who was darkening the Carolingian court. Another poet from the same circle wrote verses against the expatriate, naming him as one Cadac-Andreas. Despite these opinions against him, however, Cadac eventually earned a bishopric, another example of the success met by so many of the Irish abroad at this time.36 Yet while many Irish were traveling to Britain and the Continent, others, in the mode of Antony, sought out uninhabited destinations, frequently islands. The most famous such community is Skellig Michael, off of Ireland’s southwest coast, but clerics ranged quite widely in their search for solitude. The first Norse explorers in Iceland found traces of Christian settlement 33 See Fenn, ‘Irish Sea Influence on the English Church’, pp. 80-84; Hughes, ‘Evidence for Contacts between the Churches of the Irish and English from the Synod of Whitby to the Viking Age’, pp. 49-67; and Kelly, ‘Irish Influence in England after the Synod of Whitby’, pp. 35-47. 34 Sedulius Scottus, ‘Idem ad Suos’, Carmina II, pp. 199-200. A possible background for these four figures is provided in Chadwick, ‘Early Culture and Learning in North Wales’, pp. 101-110. 35 For a thorough discussion of extant Irish manuscripts, their features and their provenance, see O’Sullivan, ‘Manuscripts and Palaeography’, pp. 511-548. An account of this material’s wideranging influence in Carolingian France is Bischoff’s seminal ‘Wendepunkte in der Geschichte der lateinischen Exegese im Frühmittelalter’, pp. 205-273. Bischoff catalogues the manuscripts of Hiberno-Latin character and/or influence in ‘Catalogue of Latin Exegetical Literature Both Hiberno-Latin and That Showing Irish Influence, up to the Beginning of the Ninth Century’, pp. 95-160. 36 Bischoff, ‘Theodulf und der Ire Cadac-Andreas’, pp. 19-25; and Ó’Cróinín, ‘Hiberno-Latin Literature to 1169’, p. 395.



and ascribed it to Irish papar, familiar as they were with the practices of Irish churchmen.37 Dicuil, writing in his De mensura orbis terrae, speaks as well of Irish hermits in the islands of the North Sea, including ‘Thule’ (likely Iceland).38 Finally, there was the most extreme iteration of ailithre, the one most purely modeled after criminal punishment. This is the desire of the three Irishmen in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as well as three young clerics from a short tale in the Book of Lismore. They declare, ‘leicium ar raimh isin mhuir uann 7 fo[n]certam il-leth ar Tigerna’39 (‘Let’s release our oars into the sea and place ourselves in the hands of our Lord’), making their intentions plain. The key to ailithre, as with outlawry, was privation. This is most manifestly the case in the more ascetic forms of the practice. Subsisting on whatever a community could find on a craggy outcrop off the coast or subjecting oneself to the elements of the sea while at the mercy of the winds and currents goes beyond simply doing without – these individuals were seeking even greater hardship. Deprivation is the demonstrated goal of those three clerics: they bring a cat along with them, and when they land on an isle the creature catches enough salmon for them all to eat three full meals a day. Instead of enjoying their good fortune, the brothers despair, declaring ‘ni hailitre ar n-ailitre ifechtsa. Tucsam lon linn, ar caitin diar n-airbiathad. As diic ifechtsa, tomhailt a urthoraidh’40 (‘Our ailithre is no ailithre now! We have brought rations with us, our cat to provide for us. Now it is hardship to eat its catch’). Yet the asceticism of ailithre’s penance did not need to be so extreme. Outlawry, after all, was a punishment in this period precisely because any type of displacement was arduous. It was exacerbated by the loss of one’s local and familial connections, through which one’s legal and societal identity was formed in medieval Ireland. 41 Travel away from home therefore meant giving up one’s rights and status, and this in itself was often considered a suff icient penalty for crimes. 37 Landnámabók, pp. 31-32. In Íslendingabók, the papar are still there but leave when faced with the prospect of living beside heathen men. Ari Þorgilsson, Íslendingabók, p. 5. Recent archeological evidence for the presence of the papar can be found in Kristján Ahronson, Into the Ocean. 38 Dicuil, Liber de mensura orbis terrae, pp. 72-75; and Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, ‘Hiberno-Latin Literature to 1169’, pp. 394-395. 39 ‘Sgela an trir mac cleirech’, Lives of Saints from the Book of Lismore, p. viii. The story also appears in the twelfth-century Book of Leinster, and is published as ‘Les Trois Clercs & le Chat’, pp. 5-11. 40 ‘Sgela an trir mac cleirech’, p. viii. 41 Turner and Turner, Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture, p. 52; and Clancy, ‘Subversion at Sea’, p. 199.

Imitating Exile in Early Medieval Ireland


The early Irish penitentials include it as a form of penance, 42 as does St. Columba, who in his Vita claims a penitent should ‘duodecum annis inter Brittones cum fletu et lacrymis poenitentium egeris, nec ad Scotiam usque ad mortem reversus fueris’43 (‘perform penance for twelve years among the British with weeping and tears, nor ever return to Ireland until your death’). No reason is given as to why Britain must be the site of the penance, nor why Ireland is forever off-limits, which makes expatriation itself the salient feature of the absolution, at least ostensibly. The implication is, then, that there is something unpleasant about existence abroad. Even for an ailithir whose wanderings culminate in success and luxury, the emphasis is upon one’s itinerancy and the difficulty of one’s plight. For Sedulius and his companions, ‘Nos tumidus Boreas vastat – miserabile visu – / Doctos grammaticos presbiterosque pios:/ Namque volans Aquilo non ulli parcit honori/ Crudeli rostro nos laniando suo’44 (‘Blustering Boreas scatters us – a miserable sight! – learned grammarians and pious priests: indeed, the willful North Wind spares none of the honorable, we are to be rent by his cruel beak’). Columbanus describes his travails among the Franks ‘acsi marina trabe interclusus’45 (‘as though I were shut in upon a vessel of the sea’), associating his travels with the more solitary, sea-going form of ailithre despite its evident differences.

The Concept of Conduct The variations of ailithre were undifferentiated because each embodied the same, larger concept of penance and privation, as effected through travel. As such, it lent itself to metaphors of journeying. Columbanus, for example, describes life thus: Donante Domino de humana vita diximus, quod viae similitudo est, in qua unusquisque iter ad aeterna agens de alienis cupiditatibus securus, quasi viatici tantum paupertate contentus esse debeat, ut nullis haerens illecebris terrens cuncta sibi esse aliena intellegat. 46

42 An Irish Penitential, pp. 166-169. Due to Irish missionary activity, penitentials derived from this work appeared throughout Carolingian France, attesting to its early date. 43 Adomnán, Vita Sancta Columbae, p. 35. 44 Sedulius Scottus, ‘Item ad Eundem Episcopum’, Carmina II, p. 168. 45 Columbanus, Epistola III, Sancti Columbani opera, pp. 22-23. 46 Columbanus, Instructio VI, Sancti Columbani opera, pp. 86-87.



Through God’s granting we have spoken of the human life which is like a road, upon which everyone making a journey towards the eternal, untroubled by their alienation from vanities, should be sufficiently satisfied with their poverty as a kind of traveling allowance, so that, clinging to no temptation, they understand that all earthly things are foreign to them.

Life is a journey (iter) upon a road or route (via), the traversing of which requires practical supplies such as a traveling allowance (viaticum), which in itself symbolizes an additional component of a life well lived – in this case, poverty (paupertas). Columbanus’ writings, therefore, take the common motif of the life-as-journey and expand upon it with a more granular consideration of the practice of travel. All people travel, after all, in that they inhabit, as living beings, the transitory world; what is important is that they travel well. Columbanus notes that the roadway of life’s journey is too often mistaken for a dwelling place in itself, and that ‘sunt […] revera nonnulli in hoc itinere ita securi ut non tam in via quam in patria esse videantur; et non tam voluntarii quam inviti eunt ad patriam nimirum iam perditam’47 (‘upon this journey there are in truth many so unmindful in this manner that they appear to be not on the road but in their home; and they move not willingly but under duress towards a homeland now doubtlessly lost’). In this line of thinking Columbanus echoes Augustine, who said of worldly distractions, ‘Temporalia sunt salus, substantia, honor, amici, domus, filii, uxor, et caetera vitae hujus ubi peregrinamur. Ponamus nos ergo in stabulo vitae hujus, quasi peregrine transituri, non quasi possessores mansuri’48 (‘Those [good things] which are temporary are health, property, honor, friends, children, a wife, and the other things of this life where we travel as strangers. Therefore, we leave the things of this life at the way-station, in the manner of a traveler moving on, not like those who stay to settle down’). Unlike Augustine, however, Columbanus characterizes stasis not as a distraction but as an alternative, and inferior, way of life. Conduct, then, is important, in both senses of the word: the manner in which one makes his or her way across a physical space represents the behavior which ensures arrival at the ultimate destination, heaven. Responsible journeying indicates responsible living. A casual correlation between both concepts understood under the idea of conduct is widespread, and evinces itself in language in both the medieval 47 Columbanus, Instructio V, Sancti Columbani opera, pp. 84-87. 48 Augustine, Sermo LXXX, Elenchus operum, p. 497. See also Sermi XIV, CLXXVII, and CLXXVIII, Elenchus operum, pp. 114, 954 and 965. Augustine perhaps got the idea for this image by Clement, who uses it in his Stromata, I, pp. 1375-1376; and Stromata, or Miscellanies, p. 440.

Imitating Exile in Early Medieval Ireland


era and today. The modern English word way, for example, can encompass both concepts, in both the obvious meaning of the route one takes on a journey but also in phrases such as ‘it is her way’ to explain quirks in behavior or ‘the way things are’ as an allusion to long-held custom. In this manner it is entirely cognate with the Latin via, which possessed the same flexibility in meaning. 49 It is also shared, naturally, by the Anglo-Saxon word weg, the ancestor of its modern English counterpart, as well as by sið, which carried the additional meaning of ‘experience’ or ‘fate’.50 In Old Norse, siðr, the cognate to OE sið, could mean only custom or behavior (with an extended, more specific meaning of ‘religion’), but vegr retained its dual signification.51 Old Irish, for its part, paralleled the Old Norse in having one term, ires, which denoted behavior or creed, and another, dul, which could serve as a cognate for conduct in all its meanings.52 That the association appears so frequently in so many separate contexts speaks to its universality. It has biblical precedent, in that Christ informed his followers ‘Ego sum via et veritas et vita. Nemo venit ad Patrem nisi per me’53 (‘I am the way and the truth and the life. None come to the Father except through me’). The succinct declaration conflates physical travel with life in its identification of Christ with both the via and vita, an association strengthened by its characterization of God the Father as one approached (venire) by way of (per) his Son, the aforementioned via. That he is also veritas raises the issue of the propriety of one’s conduct – it is not enough to travel, but one must travel well. This exhortation is repeated in one of the earliest Christian texts, the Didache, which offers to the believer at its outset the choice of two viae, one of life and the other of death.54 It is in precisely the same spirit that Columbanus advises his audience. The argument of proper conduct also appeared in the works of the Desert Fathers, direct influences upon early Christian Irish thought. Its lesson is 49 ‘via’, in A Latin Dictionary, p. 1984. 50 ‘sið’ and ‘weg’, in An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, pp. 878 and 1183. For the range of meanings possible in Old English for sið, and a thorough comparison with its cognates in related languages, see Jankowsky, ‘OE Sîð and Stund in Old Germanic and Indo-European Environment’, pp. 353-383. Jankowsky argues that an understanding of fate is at the core of the term’s meaning throughout the development of the Germanic languages, but he uncovers no incidence of the word or its cognates carrying that explicit definition outside of Old English. 51 ‘siðr’ and ‘vegr’, in An Icelandic-English Dictionary, pp. 526 and 689-690. 52 ‘dul’ and ‘ires’, in Dictionary of the Irish Language, pp. 444-446 and 1298; also supplemented in The Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language. 53 John 14.6, Biblia Sacra. Punctuation has been added. 54 Didache, pp. 416-417. Via above is my rendering of Ehrman’s translation of ‘path’ from the Greek.



conveyed explicitly in the life of Macarius of Alexandria, who ‘travers[ed] the desert as if it were the sea’.55 On a journey into an uncharted area of the desert, Macarius becomes stranded when a demon pulls up the reeds he had set as markers of the way back. ‘God had permitted this for his own further training’,56 the text says, ‘so that he may not place trust in reeds, but rather in the pillar of cloud that led Israel for forty years in the desert’ – in other words, to teach the monk to rely on God for his guidance rather than his own efforts. It is only in doing so that Macarius survives.57 The thinking underlying this episode is expounded by several works of the Desert Fathers which meditate upon Numbers 21.22, wherein the Israelites request safe passage through the lands of the Amorrhites. They promise ‘non declinabimus in agros et vineas non bibemus aquas ex puteis via regia gradiemur donec transeamus terminos tuos’ (‘we will not wander into the fields or vineyards nor drink water from the wells [but] proceed along the royal road until we have crossed your borders’). With this vow as their inspiration, the monks of Egypt and their successors built from its imagery a forceful argument for moderation, one which they supplemented with corroborating verses from elsewhere in the Bible.58 Antony, in his Vita, borrows from John the Baptist when he encourages his followers to ‘rectas facite semitas ipsius’59 (‘make your paths straight’). Antony’s lessons along with the rest of the Desert Fathers’ were eventually compiled by John Cassian into his Collationes (today better known as the Conferences), where he made the lesson of the via regia the cornerstone of his exhortation to monks. He encourages them to proper behavior, quae praetermittens utramque nimietatem, uia regia monachum docet semper incedere et nec dextra uirtutum permittit extolii, id est, feruoris 55 Palladius, The Lausiac History, p. 60. For the original language, see Palladius, La Storica Lausiaca, pp. 80-81. Since the original is in Greek I rely on the English translation for its sense, although the Greek text is accompanied by an Italian translation I am able to use for comparison. 56 The Italian translation suggests a meaning more suited to the principles of penance: God permits the loss of the markers ‘per un più arduo esercizio’ – ‘for a more arduous experience’ – drawing a definite correlation between the value of an action and its difficulty. Palladius, La Storica Lausiaca, p. 83. 57 Palladius, The Lausiac History, pp. 60-61; and Palladius, La Storica Lausiaca, pp. 80-85. 58 The concern for moderation among the Desert Fathers may simply be a natural outgrowth of the call to asceticism – with holiness measured largely by the amount of privation one is able to endure, it becomes necessary to make sure that one does not overdo it. Yet it has also been suggested that the Egyptian ascetics were also resisting pressure from pre-Christian tradition or heretical or foreign strains of Christianity for more extravagant demonstrations of devotion. Caner, Wandering, Begging Monks, pp. 26-27. 59 Athanasius, Vita di Antonio, p. 48.

Imitating Exile in Early Medieval Ireland


excessu iustae continentiae modum inepta praesumptione transcendere, nec oblectatum remissione deflectere ad uitia sinistra concedit, hoc est sub praetextu gubernandi corporis contrario spiritus tepore lentescere.60 which avoids both excesses and teaches a monk to always walk the royal way, and neither allows [him] to be overly praised by virtues on the right (that is, to surpass through an excess of passion the practice of proper self-control due to unwise presumption), nor permits [him] to drift towards the vicissitudes of the left through an allowance for pleasures (that is, to increase in lassitude under the pretext of mastering the body, due to a self-defeating tepidity of spirit).

Elsewhere, he quotes Proverbs 16.25 – ‘Sunt uiae quae uidentur rectae esse uiro, nouissima autem earum uenient in profundum inferi’61 (‘There are paths which appear to be correct to a man; however, the ends of them come to the utter depths’) – in support of this same point, using the concept of a journey well-navigated to symbolize a Christian life well-lived. The early medieval North Atlantic continued to employ this symbolism. Columbanus exhorts his audience, in a virtual echo of Cassian, ‘Angusta, vies, porta est et paucis degressa perfectionis via, quae a laeva vitia, a dextera vanitatis et superbiae mala declinat. Gradienum igitur est via regia ad civitatem Dei viventis’62 (‘The gate is narrow, you understand, and tread by few [is] the way of perfection, which shuns vice on the left and the iniquities of vanity and pride on the right. For it is the royal road to the city of the living God that we are walking’). The meditation on the via regia is in essence an elucidation of conduct. Just as a responsible traveler is expected to conduct themselves sensibly upon a physical road, a serious Christian is expected to conduct him or herself morally through life. As an Anglo-Saxon example, Ælfric expresses the same principles of conduct but transfers the stage of action from the via regia to another familiar environment, the sea: Mine gebroðra, behealdað ðæs woruld swa swa sæ. We sceolon beon on ðissere worulde hreohnyssum strange on geleafan , and eft on hire smyltnysse swiðe wære. Seo hreohnys is open costnung, and seo smyltnys is stulor 60 John Cassian, Collationes, p. 41 (book 2, chpt. 2). For another early interpretation of this portion of Numbers, see Origen, In Numeros homilia XII, pp. 656-666. An account of the metaphor’s early use can be found in Leclercq, L’Amour des Lettres et le Désir de Dieu, pp. 102-105. 61 John Cassian, Collationes, p. 32 (book 1, chpt. 20). 62 Columbanus, Epistula IV, Sancti Columbani opera, p. 32.



and digele swica. Gif ðu lufast God, þonne fortretst ðu þa woruldlican styrunga; gif ðu lufast þas woruld, heo besencð ðe, forðan ðe heo ne cann aberan hire lufigendas, ac cann bepæcan. Gif ðin heorte floterað on ðissere worulde gytsunge, oððe on yfelre gewilnunge, and þu wylle hi oferswyðan, clypa to Cristes fultume.63 My brothers, consider this world as you would the sea. We shall exist in our faith in this world through strong storms, and also during periods of complete calm. The storm is open temptation, and the calm is unnoticed and secret hazard. If you love God, then you overcome the turmoil of the world; if you love the world, it inundates you, because it cannot sustain its admirers, but it can seduce [them]. If in this world your heart is buoyed by avarice, or by evil desires, and you wish to overcome it, call on Christ’s aid.

The idea of the sea as a setting upon which a Christian’s true devotion to God is laid bare by the fate of their vessel is the logic which underlay both the criminal punishment of setting adrift and of the extreme asceticism of ailithre. And in Ireland, the philosophy would find narrative expression.

The Immram, a Genre of Conduct The principle of conduct is most fully apparent in the indigenous genre of immrama, or ‘rowings’. Among scholars, the immrama are usually paired with a similar series of works known as echtrai, or ‘adventures’, since both depict fantastic realms usually associated with the pre-Christian Celtic otherworld, though there is also often a strong association of these places with the Christian heaven. In the immrama, the locations are to be found off in the Western sea. A crucial difference between the two genres is that echtrai are primarily concerned with the vision of the alternate realm; if the subject of the story in fact travels to the place, that trip is brief and unimportant to the focus of the narrative. In contrast, in the immrama, as their name suggests, the voyage to the otherworld is the centerpiece of the story. The protagonists and their crew encounter a series of marvels and fantastical isles before reaching their intended destination, and the plot is concerned with their preparations and execution of the journey – in other words, with the bare facts of their conduct. This development, like the punishment of setting adrift, would appear to be Christian, though 63 Ælfric, Item de Sancto Petro, Ælfric’s Catholic Homilies (second series), pp. 227-228.

Imitating Exile in Early Medieval Ireland


this does not preclude an earlier tradition. Alwyn Rees and Brinley Rees, who take an Indo-Europeanist approach to Celtic literature and folklore, also imply the concept of conduct when they describe the purpose of the immrama ‘to teach the “craft” of dying and to pilot the departing spirit on a sea of perils and of wonders’.64 Whatever its origins, the idea of conduct is of early provenance in Ireland: while most immrama are difficult to date, certain episodes within Adomnán’s Vita sancti Columbae are of an immram type, and this work was written in the late seventh century. Other early works have been dated to the eighth.65 Moreover, the events of the immrama appear to be set around the sixth century, at a time when ailithre was widely practiced.66 Because of these considerations, despite the sole existence of most immrama in manuscripts from the Middle Irish period, they are usually taken to be early medieval works. The immrama once composed a larger group,67 and those that are left show minimal relation to one another despite their similarities. Some exist in only one exemplar, while others appear in later manuscripts. Along with episodes from Adomnán’s Vita of St. Columba and the Patrician story of Mac Cuill, they include four independent tales. The earliest is Immram Brain maic Febail (‘The Voyage of Bran mac Febal’).68 Another two, Immram curaig Maíle Dúin and Immram curaig Ua Corra (‘The Voyage of Máel Dúin’s Boat’ and ‘The Voyage of the Boat of the Uí Chorra’) exist in earlier prose forms with later attendant verse retellings.69 The fourth, Immram Snédgusa ocus 64 Rees and Rees, Celtic Heritage, p. 325. 65 McCone dates the earliest echtrae and immram to the eighth century (Echtrae Chonnlai, pp. 29-47). The outside sources which are normally held to influence the immrama are those of a Christian character; the suggestion that they may have some affiliation with the epics of Greco-Roman tradition was raised early but subsequently dismissed. See Zimmer, ‘Keltische Beiträge II’, pp. 328-331; and Thrall, ‘Vergil’s Aeneid and the Irish Imrama’, pp. 449-478. This is despite the fact that early medieval Ireland had greater familiarity with classical literature than is commonly expected of Latin Western cultures at the time, as evidenced by its versions of both Odysseus’ and Aeneas’ voyages. Still, given the unusual nature of these works, it may be argued that native traditions influenced them more than the other way around. See Stanford, ‘Towards a History of Classical Influences in Ireland’, pp. 33-38. 66 Thrall, ‘Clerical Sea Pilgrimages and the Imrama’, pp. 16-17. 67 The Litany of Irish Saints – II contains references to several that have not survived. Hughes, ‘On an Irish Litany of Pilgrim Saints’, p. 316. 68 Echtrae Chonnlai, pp. 43-47. 69 According to Clancy, the dates for the versions of Immram curaig Maíle Dúin are the eighth or ninth century for the prose and the tenth century for the verse. For Immram curaig Ua Corra, the fully prose version is from the twelfth century, although its story appears to have been known c. 900. Its later retelling is an early modern rendering. Clancy, ‘Subversion at Sea’, pp. 197-198; Dumville, ‘Echtrai and Immram’, p. 88; and Breatnach, ‘The Transmission and Structure of Immram



Maic Riagla (‘The Voyage of Snédgus and Mac Riagla’) exists in an early tenth-century verse form, with four distinct prose versions stretching into the early modern era, with the earliest found in the Yellow Book of Lecan of the eleventh century.70 Also included within the genre is the complex tradition of the life of St. Brendan, which culminated in the Latin Navigatio sancti Brendani.71 Each one incorporates the same broad plot: the protagonist is inspired to sail in search of an island located somewhere out in the Western sea. Gathering a crew and often taking on additional passengers at the last minute, he is frustrated in his attempts to reach his destination, instead witnessing a series of marvels upon the islands encountered in his wanderings. Some of the crew are lost, usually those who were latecomers to the expedition. At the end of the story the destination is reached and the protagonist returns home to tell his story. Modern scholars have associated the immrama with ailithre for virtually the entire time these texts have garnered their attention,72 though the connection is more apparent in some instances than others. For some stories, there can be little doubt that what is being described is an ailithre in one of its many forms. The YBL version of Immram Snédgusa ocus Maic Riagla, for example, states clearly that its protagonists ‘imráidhset eturro dul assa ndeóin isand-ocián n-imechtrach a n-ailithri’ (‘decided between themselves of their own accord to go on an ailithre into the open sea’), Curaig Ua Corra’, pp. 92-99. See also The Voyage of Máel Dúin, pp. 89-98. For primary sources, see ‘The Voyage of Mael Dúin’, pp. 447-495 and 50-95; The Voyage of Máel Dúin, pp. 100-179; and ‘The Voyage of the Húi Corra’, pp. 22-69. 70 Clancy, ‘Subversion at Sea’, p. 198. The earliest prose version (late 11th century) is in ‘The Voyage of Snedgus and Mac Riagla’, pp. 14-25; the verse and the second earliest (c. 1160) are in Zwei Versionem der mittelirischen Legende von Snedgus und Mac Riagla. For my purposes I will be restricting comment to the demonstrably earlier permutations of the legend, but the older two prose works (13th-14th and 16th centuries, respectively) can be found in ‘Meruged cléirech Choluim Chille’, pp. 307-326; and O’Donnell, Betha Colaim Chille, pp. 382-401. 71 The development of the legend of St. Brendan is extremely complicated and most aspects of it, including the relationship between the manuscripts and their provenance, are subject to much dispute among scholars. Discussions on the matter include Zimmer, ‘Keltische Beiträge II’, pp. 129-220 and 257-338; Plummer, ‘Some New Light on the Brendan Legend’, pp. 1-14; Selmer, Introduction, Navigatio sancti Brendani, pp. xv-l; Carney, Review of Navigatio sancti Brendani, pp. 42-51; The Voyage of Máel Dúin, pp. 20-38; and Strijbosch, The Seafaring Saint, pp. 125-165. Along with the famous Navigatio, extant versions include several earlier, variable and incomplete vitae found in Acta Sanctorum Hibernia ex Codice Salmanticensi, pp. 113-154; Lives of Saints from the Book of Lismore, pp. 99-116 and 247-261; and Vitae Sanctorum Hiberniae, I, pp. 98-151. 72 The first to raise the possibility was Zimmer, ‘Keltische Beiträge II’, pp. 216-217. The idea entered the mainstream with Thrall, ‘Clerical Sea Pilgrimages and the Imrama’, pp. 15-21.

Imitating Exile in Early Medieval Ireland


describing a clear type of the practice and naming it as such.73 That they perform their ailithre ‘assa ndeóin’ (‘of their own accord’) is an important distinction, since the two clerics are inspired by the example of sixty men slated for execution whom St. Columba advises be set adrift on the sea ‘co rucad Dia a breith forro’ (‘so that God may bring his judgment upon them’).74 Here appears the form of capital punishment peculiar to Ireland, and by depicting this event as having inspired the two monks in their own devotions, Immram Snédgusa ocus Maic Riagla draws a parallel between the punishment of criminals and the absolution of the penitent. That such actions could account for both temporal and spiritual retribution is also assumed in Immram curaig Ua Corra. The Uí Chorra are notorious raiders, and as penance for having destroyed over half of the churches in Connacht St. Finnén commands them to rebuild each one. Upon completing the task the brothers behold the sunset and resolve to follow its course in the hopes of witnessing marvels.75 There is nothing ostensibly devotional about this mission, but once they are set to embark the text refers to their ailithre, and states that the brothers’ goal is to ‘iarraid an Coimdedh’ and ‘iarraid nimhe’76 (‘seek the Lord’ and ‘seek heaven’). At the conclusion of the story they claim, ‘Dalotsam dar n-oilithre […] do dilgudh ar cinadh-ne’77 (‘We went upon an ailithre […] for forgiveness of our sins’). Coaimhín Breatnach sees this discrepancy as evidence that the texts of the Immram curaig Ua Corra are composite works, combining the tales of the Uí Chorra and an anonymous group of penitents.78 If so, it explains the presence of many ailithre tropes in the story: the Uí Chorra take other sinners upon their boat, cease rowing just like Snédgus and Mac Riagla, and meet a hermit, Dega, on one island. He resides there because one day at his monastery he missed his prayers, and his prescribed penance was to go out on ailithre.79 Encountering hermits is a common occurrence in the immrama, and these figures too are an obvious reference to ailithre. Dega is present upon his island due to his participation in the practice, as are two other hermits featured in Imramm curaig Maíle Dúin.80 This, too, is the motive of travelers 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80

‘The Voyage of Snedgus and Mac Riagla’, pp. 18-19. ‘The Voyage of Snedgus and Mac Riagla’, pp. 16-19. ‘The Voyage of the Huí Corra’, pp. 36-39. ‘The Voyage of the Huí Corra’, pp. 38-39. ‘The Voyage of the Huí Corra’, pp. 62-63. Breatnach, ‘The Transmission and Structure of the Immram Curaig Ua Corra’, p. 102. ‘The Voyage of the Huí Corra’, pp. 38-41 and 44-45. The Voyage of Máel Dúin, pp. 138-139 and 168-177.



in the Vita Columbae, to ‘quaerere eremum’ (‘seek a hermitage’) in the ocean.81 In some cases, the individuals encountered are famous saints themselves. In the Navigatio sancti Brendani, one of the ascetics that the voyaging saint meets is St. Paul the Hermit.82 Another ailithir who does not appear in the Navigatio yet whose influence is keenly felt is St. Ailbe. The island community he founded shelters the travelers every Christmas season, and his is an example to which Brendan aspires.83 The monks of St. Ailbe and their monastery appear as well in the Immram curaig Ua Corra in much the same capacity, as does the community of St. Brendan of Birr in the Immram curaig Maíle Dúin.84 It is a visitor from another island monastery – this time one founded by an ascetic named Mernoc – who inspires Brendan on his journey, since the community is close to the terra repromissionis sanctorum that so entices the saint.85 Finally, in Immram Snédgusa ocus Maic Riagla, the ascetic community encountered by the protagonists is in fact the group of exiles condemned to set adrift at the outset of the story. Now shriven, they reside upon an island with Enoch and Elijah until the end of time.86 Each of these episodes reflects the reality of ascetic communities and individual hermits upon the islands of Ireland’s Western sea. Yet in other cases the relation of the immrama to ailithre is less apparent. There is little that is penitential in Máel Dúin’s desire to set sail, as he is traveling to avenge himself on the men who killed his father.87 Nor is there anything inherently devotional in taking a journey for the purposes of exploration, to discover a land or to witness the exotic, as are the motives of the Uí Chorra, Bran, and Brendan. However, to accept the motive of curiosity at face value would be overly literal. As has already been seen, the text of Immram curaig Ua Corra appreciates no distinction between seeking the unusual and seeking salvation. In the Navigatio sancti Brendani, the specif ic marvel that Brendan seeks is the terra repromissionis sanctorum, the ‘land of promise of the blessed’, an epithet which equates it with heaven. In its description, it combines aspects of the Garden of Eden and of the afterlife, and, indeed, it is adjacent 81 Adomnán, Vita Sancta Columbae, pp. 22, 33, and 115-116. 82 Navigatio sancti Brendani, pp. 70-76. For the identification of this figure, see n. 15. 83 Navigatio sancti Brendani, pp. 28-37. 84 ‘The Voyage of the Huí Corra’, pp. 56-57; and The Voyage of Máel Dúin, pp. 160-165. 85 Navigatio sancti Brendani, pp. 3-9. 86 ‘The Voyage of Snedgus and Mac Riagla’, pp. 22-23. On the significance and provenance of Enoch and Elijah, see Esposito, ‘An Apocryphal “Book of Enoch and Elias” as a Possible Source of the Navigatio sancti Brendani’, pp. 27-41. 87 The Voyage of Máel Dúin, pp. 104-107.

Imitating Exile in Early Medieval Ireland


to ‘paradise’ (paradiso). It is teeming with jewels and ripened fruit, and, as one of its inhabitants says, Sicut illam uides modo, ita ab inicio mundi permansit. Indigesne aliquid cibi aut potus siue uestimenti? Unum annum enim es in hac insula et non gustasti de cibo aut de potu. Numquam fuisti oppressus somno, nec nox te operuit. Dies namque est semper sine cecitate tenebrarum hic. Dominus noster Jhesus Christus lux ipsius est.88 Just as you see this place now, it has remained this way from the beginning of the world. Do you need any food, drink, or clothing? You have been on this island for one year and have not partaken in any food or drink. You have never been oppressed by sleep, nor has night covered you, for it is forever day here without darkness falling. Our Lord Jesus Christ is our light.

Certain elements of this description, especially the presence of Christ, are clearly Christian. However, lands such as the terra repromissionis sanctorum borrow as well from the pagan Celtic tradition of the otherworld. Nevertheless, as Hans P.A. Oskamp has argued, in Christian hands this material loses its original meaning and is repurposed for Christian intent;89 moreover, Christian writers continued to develop whatever they inherited from earlier tradition. John Carey sees the location of such lands across the sea as one such innovation.90 That the otherworld or the afterlife should be located across the ocean, however, is a natural development, and an association of the sea with the heavens is a common feature of many seagoing societies. Mary W. Helms observes that ‘Island life, with its natural zones of dry land, littoral, and sea, would also seem to offer obvious material for cosmological zoning. Indeed, symbolic spatial zoning can even extend overseas beyond the horizon to include distant islands and even the sky’.91 The thin boundary between sea and sky that constitutes the horizon ‘extends horizontal terrestrial space into what is often a more encompassing vertical or celestial space’.92 The 88 Navigatio sancti Brendani, pp. 6-7. References to Paradise are on pp. 7-8. See also pp. 78-81. 89 ‘Echtra Condla’, p. 213. 90 Carey, ‘The Location of the Otherworld in Irish Tradition’, p. 119. 91 Helms, Ulysses’ Sail, p. 24. 92 Helms, Ulysses’ Sail, p. 26. See also Rees and Rees, Celtic Heritage, p. 107. For examinations of the immrama in an archipelagic setting, see Siewers, ‘Desert Islands’, pp. 38-40; and Byrne, Otherworlds, pp. 141-143.



assertion is broad, but it describes well the characterization in the immrama of ocean travel as the only consistent way to escape the mundane, whether the goal be a pagan or secular otherworld or a thinly-veiled heaven. In Immram curaig Ua Corra the protagonists are inspired to journey when (Laithe n)aen da tancatar amach os or in chuain, ac (feithi)dh na greine oc dul seacha siar, (7 rob)atar ag ingantus mor um dala reatha na grene. ‘Ocus cia leth i teit an grian’, ar siat, ‘o thét fon fairrciu? 7 ca inganta ni’, ar siat, ‘anas an fairrce cein egreadh 7 egreadh ar gach usci ele?’93 One day when they came out over the boundary of the sea,94 they were observing the sun as it moved past them westward, and they expressed great wonder over the sun’s track. ‘And the sun goes on what course’, they said, ‘after going over the open sea? And are they not wonders’, they said, ‘the sea without ice and ice on all other water?’

The brothers express their desire as a quest for the horizon and what lies beyond. The reference to the absence or absolute presence of ice on the sea invokes the opposite axis by identifying features of travels either south or north. Yet in contrast to this stated interest in exploration, later on in the story the Uí Chorra are said to be seeking heaven.95 We should keep in mind Breatnach’s theory;96 however, if the Immram curaig Ua Corra combines the brothers’ story with that of an immram, then its failure to synchronize their motives could indicate that there was no real disagreement between exploration on one hand and penance on the other. To set out towards the ultimate boundaries of the world in any direction is to seek God, the goal of every ailithir. That the Uí Chorra make their vow on the shore only highlights the liminal nature of what they set out to achieve. Most of the immrama, then, operate as extended metaphors for the traditional life-as-journey motif, with one’s tenure on earth represented as sea travel and the ultimate destination signifying heaven. Yet the elaboration and dramatization of the metaphor seen here shifts it from a simply descriptive concept to one that is prescriptive as well. The immrama do not speak vaguely about the destinations of their travelers; instead, perhaps drawing from 93 ‘The Voyage of the Huí Corra’, pp. 36-39. 94 Stokes translates os or in chuain as ‘over the edge of the haven’ but my translation is just as acceptable and makes it a bit more understandable why a sea journey occurs to the Uí Chorra at this moment if they are on the shore. 95 ‘The Voyage of the Huí Corra’, pp. 38-39. 96 Breatnach, ‘The Transmission and Structure of the Immram Curaig Ua Corra’, p. 102.

Imitating Exile in Early Medieval Ireland


the echtrai tradition,97 they describe them in a way which conveys an early Christian’s expectation of the afterlife. Correspondingly, the journey to that destination, in its expansion, expresses an opinion of the conduct proper to attaining that purpose. This is Thomas Owen Clancy’s reading of Immram curaig Maíle Dúine.98 Compared to the others in its genre, this piece is an immram set on its head: its protagonist Máel Dúin relies not on the advice of churchmen in preparing his journey but rather that of a druid. That is fine, however, since the ‘promised land’ in this instance is no heavenly isle but rather the island refuge of the men who killed his father. Nevertheless, the warriors credit God for guiding them when they identify and approach the murderers’ location. No sooner is this said however than a wind rises up and drives the ship away.99 Máel Dúin blames the turn of fortune on his foster-brothers, who insisted on accompanying him on the journey against the druid’s counsel.100 Clancy, however, has a different interpretation: It is no accident, then, that just before the wind kicks up, a long speech about God providing vengeance has been spoken. The failure of the raid is a result not of ignoring the druid’s sage advice (the apparent cause), but of following ungodly ways, of Máel Dúin’s kinship and vanity driving him to violence, to the use of wizards, and of trying to claim God’s support for these actions.101

In Clancy’s reading, Máel Dúin’s error is not in disobeying the druid, but in failing to understand the conflict between his desires, actions, and deference to druidry on one side, and his Christian faith on the other. Right before upbraiding his foster-brothers for defying the druid, he tells the crew ‘leicidh in noi ana tost cen imrum 7 an leth bus ail do dia a brith beraigh’102 (‘leave the boat at rest with no rowing and wherever God wishes to bear [us] shall be according to his judgment’). He effectively places them all upon an ailithre. This highlights his apparent confusion but also leads them upon the adventure of the story, in which instead of returning directly to the island the crew encounters a series of fantastic locales. The most prominent of these episodes have within them some lesson for Máel Dúin to absorb concerning 97 See Echtrae Chonnlai, pp. 121-123 for an example of an otherworld description within an echtrae. On the potentiality of it drawing upon Christian imagery, see pp. 95-100. 98 Clancy, ‘Subversion at Sea’, pp. 203-209. 99 The Voyage of Máel Dúin, pp. 106-109. 100 The Voyage of Máel Dúin, pp. 108-109. 101 Clancy, ‘Subversion at Sea’, p. 205. 102 The Voyage of Máel Dúin, pp. 108-109.



sin and right living. At his penultimate stop he is advised concerning his father’s killer, ‘níro marbaigh acht tabruidh dilghudh dó fo bithin robar saersi dia di morgu-asachtaib imdaib 7 basa firbidhbuidh báis do chena’ (‘Do not kill him but grant him forgiveness because God has granted you protection from many dangers and you also are men worthy of death’). It is at this revelation that Máel Dúin is able to travel directly to his desired destination and carry out his new, Christian intent.103 The journey within the Immram curaig Maíl Dúine is calibrated to teach its audience proper Christian conduct through the literal conduct of its protagonist – through his movements upon the ocean and his behavior thereon. The implication of conduct is carried within the works’ language. In Irish, the verb beirid means both ‘to bear’ and ‘to judge’, while the verbal noun form breth denotes both ‘bearing’ (in the sense of ‘carrying’) and ‘judgment’.104 This is a feature apparently inherent to the Indo-European language family but has only survived in the Celtic branch.105 In the immrama, the dual idea is expressed most often in the figura etymologica ‘beirid breth’, which, depending on the translation, can mean either ‘to judge a bearing’, ‘to judge a judgment’, ‘to bear a bearing’, or ‘to bear a judgment’. The Irish themselves seemed to have normally used (and perhaps understood) the construction solely in the judicial sense, but in the context of the immrama, the phrase creates an obvious double entendre. When St. Columba offers a sentence 103 The Voyage of Máel Dúin, pp. 168-179. 104 ‘beirid’ and ‘breth’, Dictionary of the Irish Language, pp. 68 and 84; also supplemented in The Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language. The use of simply beirid to mean ‘judge’ is rare, however, and may be a Middle Irish development based on the figura etymologica (Rosén, ‘Periphrasis and Figura Etymologica in Some Sources of Middle Irish’, pp. 72-73). For how beirid could only originally mean ‘to bear’ but breth mean both ‘bearing’ and ‘judgment’, see n. 105 below. 105 There are a number of theories as to why this should be. H. Wagner posits that the different semantic meanings of beirid derive from two separate Indo-European roots, *bher- (‘to carry’) and *gṷerǝ- (‘to sing, to praise’), with the ‘judge’ aspect of Old Irish beirid and breth (and other Celtic cognates) developing from the concept of a religious proclamation (Wagner, ‘Gallisch βρατουδε’, pp. 238-241). Eric P. Hamp disagrees but also traces the variation in meanings to IndoEuropean, in this case the roots *bher- and *bherH-, the latter of which carries the connotation of speech. This is why, he argues, the conjugations for beirid and do-beir (‘to carry’ and ‘to bring’, both having primary definitions of bearing) are irregular while that for as-beir (‘to speak’) is not – while they look entirely cognate they in fact are a case of convergent evolution (Hamp, ‘Barnu brawd’, pp. 68-75). Whatever the particulars, it seems to be agreed that the definition of ‘judgment’ attached to these words is Indo-European in origin, but that it persists only within the Celtic branch. Hamp identif ies possible traces of this meaning in the Latin phrases fert ferunt and fors fortuna. This latter (if Hamp is right that fortuna derives from *bher-)would be a figura etymologica of the same type and meaning as beirid breth (Hamp, ‘Barnu brawd’, p. 73; and Hamp, ‘The Indo-European Roots *bher- in the Light of Celtic and Albanian’, p. 210).

Imitating Exile in Early Medieval Ireland


to the criminals of Immram Snédgusa ocus Maic Riagla and says that they should be set adrift ‘co rucad Dia a breith forro’, he says both ‘so that God may carry his judgment to them’ and ‘so that God may carry his bearing to them’ – that is, determine their course or in effect physically bear them.106 Máel Dúin uses the same turn of phrase when he orders his men to draw in their oars – ‘an leth bus ail do dia a brith beraigh’107 (‘wherever God wishes to bear [us] shall be according to his judgment’). In the immrama, being carried by God is synonymous with his judgment. As a consequence, one can divine God’s opinion of one’s behavior through one’s fortune in traveling. Nowhere in the literature is this point made more clearly than in the Hermit of Tory episode from the Immram curaig Maíle Dúine, The Hermit, the person who finally prevails upon Máel Dúin to abandon his plans for revenge, had long ago been subject to the same form of judgment Máel Dúin is now experiencing. His story is worth quoting at length. Once a thief and a prideful man, the Hermit was unhealthily attached to his stolen goods and other worldly objects. Yet one day, I N-alaile amser iarom cuiriusa curuch nua co ndergcodail for muir lodsa am’ curuch 7 ba maith lium m’imchaisiu 7 ní fargbus im tigh o biuc co mor ní nad rucaid lium com’ choimtigh 7 cingitib 7 com’ cearnaib. [A] mbassa ic feghad an mara in ducht sin 7 ba feth dam in muir domfecad gaetha mora 7 nom srengad isan muir cona hacca tir na talum. Gabais tost mo curach fom i suidhiu conach bói cor do chor de ar sin d’aenbailiu. Amal dechussa immum gach leth co n-acca for mo laim deis an fer ina ṡuidhiu forsin tuind. ISbert rium iarom ca leth teighise ol sé mellach lium ol sme a lleath teit m’imchaisse forsan muir. [N]í budh mellach latsu ón dia festa an ceithirn fuil immut. Citne cethirnn son ol sme fris[.] Airet rosaigh t’imchaise uait for muir 7 suas co ruice níulla is áentor demna umut uile ol sé frium. Ar do ṡaint 7 t’uaill 7 diumus 7 ar do gait 7 ar do drochgnimu olchena. IN fetar ol se cid aran tairis do curach nochon etar eim ol sme. Ni ragha ass sund do curach assin baile a tá co tarda mo rerse. [B]es ni faelus ol sme folilais immorru piana ifirnn mina ḟáelais mo reirsi. Doluid imdochom iarom 7 fuirmidh a laim form 7 dorairngertsa a reir dó. Cuir tra ol sé isan muir an uile n-inn eam fuil occut isan curuch. [A]s liach ém ol smé a dul immudhu. [N]í raga etir amudhu ol sé bíaidh nech dia

106 ‘The Voyage of Snedgus and Mac Riagla’, pp. 16-19. 107 The Voyage of Máel Dúin, pp. 108-109.



tarmnaighfe. Fo-chuirsa uile isin muir acht cuadh bec craind. Eirg ass tra i fecht sa ol se frium 7 baile i roisfe do curuch an and[.]108 At another time I placed my new red-skinned boat on the sea. I went aboard my boat and was pleased by the view and I did not leave in my house anything, from small to large, not taken with me, my vessels and my goblets and dishes. While looking out upon the ocean in this manner and while the water was peaceful for me, great winds found me and propelled me out into the ocean until I could not see neither land nor ground. My boat came to rest there so that it would not move from there to any place. As I was casting about me on each side I saw beside me on my right a man seated upon a wave. Then he spoke to me. ‘Where are you going?’ he said. ‘To go to the place I see upon the water that is pleasing to me’, I said. ‘It would not be pleasant to you if you realized the bloody horde that surrounds you’. ‘What horde is that?’ I said to him. ‘As far as your gaze reaches across the sea and as far above as the clouds there is a host of demons about you everywhere’, he said to me, ‘because of your greed, arrogance and pride; because of your thievery and other evil deeds. Do you know why that is over your boat?’ ‘I do not’, I said. ‘Your boat will not budge from the place where it is until my will is met’. ‘Perhaps I will not suffer it’, I said. ‘Then you shall suffer the torments of Hell if you do not suffer my will’. Then he approached me and laid his hand on me and I swore to do his will. ‘Cast all of your riches in the boat, therefore, away from you and into the sea’. ‘I am upset for this to go to waste’, I said. ‘It will not go to waste at all’, he said. ‘There will be someone whom you will help’. I threw it all into the ocean except for a small wooden cup. ‘Now leave me on your journey’, he said, ‘and the place where your boat shall stop, fast there’.

The Hermit’s account is the climax of the immram, After telling Máel Dúin this story and his history upon his island, the Hermit commands him to leave off his vengeance and forgive his foes; Máel Dúin does, and his difficulty navigating is immediately solved and the tale reaches its denouement. The 108 The Voyage of Máel Dúin, pp. 168-171.

Imitating Exile in Early Medieval Ireland


placement of the Hermit’s biography at this pivotal moment establishes it as the key to the story, and it is here that all that is implied within the entirety of the tale is demonstrated specifically. The Hermit, like Máel Dúin, has a love for worldly things that hinders his proper passage through life, and so, by extension, upon the sea. In Máel Dúin’s case, his preoccupations are man’s petty justice and his own anger; for the Hermit, it is the love of goods. This more physical hindrance allows for the symbolic casting off of his past sins and past perspective to be performed literally, and he recommends to Máel Dúin that he do spiritually what was for him both an active and a mental exercise that shared a common meaning.

Conduct and Obedience That one must disavow all that is part of the transitory world is a common aspect of Christian meditations on life, even when it is not played out as ostensibly as it is here, with the Hermit of Tory being weighed down by his baggage. One is instead expected to rely on God for all things, and in this episode and elsewhere in the immrama the assurance that God will provide is again presented literally and in great detail. The belief expressed can be found in the Egyptian sources,109 derived from Christ’s exhortation in Matthew 6.25-33 to put aside worldly cares and trust, as do the things of nature, that God will grant all that their bodies may need.110 The language 109 Caner, Wandering, Begging Monks, pp. 30-35. 110 ‘Ideo dico vobis ne solliciti sitis animae vestrae, quid manducetis neque corpori vestro quid induamini. Nonne anima plus est quam esca et corpus plus est quam vestimentum? Respicite volatilia caeli quoniam non serunt neque metunt neque congregant in horrea et Pater vester caelestis pascit illa. Nonne vos magis pluris estis illis? Quis autem vestrum cogitans potest adicere ad staturam suam cubitum unum. Et de vestimento quid solliciti estis? Considerate lilia agri quomodo crescent; non laborant nec nent. Dico autem vobis quoniam nec Salomon in omni gloria sua coopertus est sicut unum ex istis. Si autem faenum agri quod hodie est et cras in clibanum mittitur Deus sic vestit quanto magis vos minimae fidei? Nolite ergo solliciti esse dicentes “Quid manducabimus?” aut “Quid bibemus?” aut “Quo operiemur?” Haec enim omnia gentes inquirunt. Scit enim Pater vester quia his omnibus indigetis. Quaerite autem primum regnum et iustitiam eius et omnia haec adicientur vobis’ (‘Therefore I am telling you not to be concerned for your life, what you will eat, nor for what you will put on your body. Is life not more than sustenance, and the body more than clothes? Consider the winged things of the sky, since they do not sow, nor reap, nor store in granaries, and your Father in heaven feeds them. Are you not so much greater than them? And which of you, thinking, can increase your stature one cubit? And why are you concerned about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow – they neither work nor spin. But I am telling you that not even Solomon in all his glory was adorned as one of these. And if the hay which is in the field today is put in the



of this passage is repeated in the prologue of the Historia monachorum when it speaks of the miraculous ways in which the wandering monks of Egypt manage to survive in the desert: Omnes ergo hi nullam cibi aut indumenti aut ullius horum sollicitudinem gerunt. Sciunt enim quia, sicut scriptum est, haec omnia gentes cogitant. Ipsi vero iustitiam et regnum dei requirunt et haec omnia secundum promissionem salvatoris adponuntur eis. Denique plurimi eorum si in aliquo forte necessariis ad usus corporis eguerint, non ad humana perfugia sed ad deum versi et ab ipso tamquam a patre proscentes quae poposcerint consequuntur.111 Therefore they all bear no anxiety over food or clothing or any other thing. For they know, just as Scripture says, that the pagans are all preoccupied with that. Indeed, these ones seek God’s justice and rule and all these things are given to them through their praise of the Savior. And so many of them, if perchance they require anything for their bodily use out of necessity, turn not to man for succor but to God. However much they may request from the Father is obtained from this.

The Irish works show the same process at work. In the Navigatio sancti Brendani, Brendan and his disciples are sustained throughout their journey through the provision of a higher power. After the exchange above in the Immram curaig Maíle Dúine the man on the wave gives the Hermit of Tory rations, bread, and enough whey-water to fill his cup. The Hermit is able to survive on this meager fare for an impossibly long time, and later on he has more food miraculously provided to him, including a salmon which is caught by an otter which then stokes a fire upon which to cook it.112 Máel Dúin and his men are fed in the same way upon their visit, as they were before when they encountered another man sustained by food brought ‘tria timthricht aingel’ (‘by the ministration of angels’). This individual has received more than just food from God, however, as he had started oven tomorrow, just so does God clothe – how much more for you of little faith? Therefore do not be worried, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “With what shall we be clothed?” For all the Gentiles seek that. After all, your Father knows that you need all of these things. Seek out the kingdom of God and his judgment first, and everything will be granted to you’). Punctuation has been added. 111 Rufinus, Historia monachorum sive de vita sanctorum partum, p. 245. The Latin text is derived from an earlier Greek work, Historia monachorum in Aegypto, p. 7. 112 The Voyage of Máel Dúin, pp. 170-173.

Imitating Exile in Early Medieval Ireland


out with far less. Lacking a seaworthy boat, this ailithir stood on a scrap of sod in the ocean, where ‘ro fótaighhestar an comdhe damsa isin ait si an fót sain […] 7 dober dia traigh cecha bliadna fora leithid o sin cose 7 crand gacha bliadna do ḟas and’113 (‘[God’s] protection had been extended to me in this particular spot and God added a foot every year to its length from here to there and a tree each year to this barren land here’). In this case a man desiring an island upon which to practice asceticism does not even need to expend the usual amount of effort to do so – if he cannot get to the island, then God will bring the island to him. In the spiritual logic of the immrama, God speeds along those whose actions please him and frustrates the travels of those whose do not. Yet the genre goes further than simply setting up a dichotomy of good versus bad behavior and presents a consistent view of what conduct is not only good, but most proper. Certainly, there are some clear instances within the immrama of undeniably sinful behavior. The Hermit of Tory was thieving and covetous; Máel Dúin was obedient to druids and bent on revenge; both the Uí Chorra and the criminals from Immram Snedgusa ocus Maic Riagla were murderers. These actions violate the basic precepts of Christianity. Yet the remedy for these actions is not simply to go and sin no more. Rather, as the man on the wave tells the Hermit of Tory, one is to ‘do-beir’ or ‘fo-loing mo rerse’ (‘bring about’ or ‘suffer my will’) to achieve movement across the sea. Recall too that the discussion of ailithre in the Betha Coluim Cille uses as its exemplar the moment in Genesis when God orders Abraham (as Abram) to leave his homeland for a destination of God’s choice and Abraham obeys.114 It is the principle of obedience expressed here which is emphasized strongly in ailithre, and, by extension, the immrama. Moreover, being monastic products, the immrama do not differentiate between deference to God and deference to one’s abbot or community. In the Navigatio sancti Brendani, the monks’ respond thus to Brendan’s proposal to go on ailithre: Abba, uoluntas tua ipsa est et nostra. Nonne parentes nostros dimisimus, nonne hereditatem nostrum despeximus et corpora nostra tradidimus in manus tuas? Itaque parati sumus siue ad mortem siue ad uitam tecum ire. Unam tantum queramus, Dei uoluntatem.115 113 The Voyage of Máel Dúin, pp. 138-139. 114 Betha Coluim Cille, Lives of Saints from the Book of Lismore, p. 168. 115 Naviagtio sancti Brendani, pp. 9-10.



Father, your will is our own. Did we not reject our parents, spurn our inheritance and place our bodies in your hands? We are prepared therefore to go with you to life or to death. We seek one thing only, the will of God.

Their devotion to Brendan is absolute, and with their final statement they make clear that they see his desires and directives as no different than God’s. A similar conflation of heavenly and abbatical authority can be seen in the immrama episodes in the Vita sancti Columbae. These feature Cormac Ua Liatháin, who attempts three separate trips abroad to seek variously solitude or exploration. He eventually meets with success, but his first assay is thwarted and, just like Máel Dúin, he traverses the sea without finding what he seeks. This is ‘non ob aliam eius culpam nisi quod alicuius religiosi abbatis monachum, ipso non permittente, discessorem secum non recte comitari, navigio susceperit’116 (‘not of his own fault but because he is taking on his journey a monk of a certain religious abbot who did not permit this, wrongly separating him from his community’). Another monk who goes on a similar voyage disobeys St. Columba and is attacked by a whale.117 In the immrama, the violation of an authority’s order concerning the journey and subsequent punishment is a common motif, which most often presents itself as the taking on of additional companions at the last minute despite a specific number of travelers being prescribed. This element of the story has already been noted in reference to Immram curaig Maíle Dúine. The druid who Máel Dúin consults gives him a specific number of men for his crew, either seventeen or sixty,118 and explicitly warns him that ‘na dicsed lín bud lia nach budh uaiti oldas sin’ (‘a number more or less than this should not come’). Yet just as Máel Dúin is about to embark, his three fosterbrothers threaten to drown themselves if they are not permitted to accompany the expedition. It is because of these extraneous men that he is kept from his goal, Máel Dúin believes, and each of the three fosterbrothers meets an unenviable fate – one is destroyed attempting to steal a necklace and the others are abandoned on islands when they lose their wits.119 These events appear to all be consequences of disobeying the druid’s directives, 116 Adomnán, Vita sancti Columbae, pp. 22-23. 117 Adomnán, Vita sancti Columbae, pp. 31-32. 118 The text itself testifies that the number varied depending on the source of the story. The Voyage of Máel Dúin, pp. 104-105. 119 The Voyage of Máel Dúin, pp. 106-109, 120-123, 128-131 and 164-167. The fate of the second fosterbrother varies depending on what text of Immram curaig Maíle Dúine is consulted. That in the Yellow Book of Lecan has him rescued from the island, but this is taken to be a scribal error since the story continues as if he is no longer there. See The Voyage of Máel Dúin, pp. 49-50.

Imitating Exile in Early Medieval Ireland


but as is said above this is likely a diversion on the story’s part – Máel Dúin is not to be condemned for ignoring a pagan priest but rather for ignoring God. Yet that the Immram curaig Maíle Dúine is able to upend the expectations speaks to how common the motif of the latecoming and/ or ill-fated crewmembers are to the immrama. Teresa Carp identifies it as part of a deep folkloric tradition of the ill-starred ‘late arrival’ who meets his doom on a journey, of which the prophet Jonah is a prime example.120 Of the immrama, only the Immram Snédgusa ocus Maic Riagla is missing this feature in some form. Yet while some aspects of it can be found in Immram Brain and the Immram curaig ua Corra, the motif as found in these texts is incomplete.121 It is therefore within the Navigatio sancti Brendani that one can best see the original motif and its message play out. In the Navigatio, St. Brendan’s crew numbers fourteen monks plus himself, and they had prepared for the journey with a series of fasts, movements across western Ireland, and blessings before embarking upon the voyage. In this immram, Brendan does not have to contend with fosterbrothers in the secular but rather the religious sense: at the last minute three of his monks come running up and declare, ‘Pater, dimitte nos ire tecum quo iturus es; alioquin moriemur in isto loco fame et siti. Decreuimus enim peregrinari diebus uite nostre’122 (‘Father, allow us to go with you on your journey; if not we will die in this place of hunger and 120 Teresa Carp, ‘The Three Late-Coming Monks: Tradition and Invention in the Navigatio Sancti Brendani’, pp. 129-131. For further significance of Jonah, see pp. 131-135. 121 Both works contain some elements of the motif but lack crucial aspects. Most importantly, neither Bran nor the Uí Chorra receive any directive as to the size of their crew, so there is no figure of authority for them to defy. Immram Brain does single out his three fosterbrothers, but only as the respective leaders of the three sets of nine men that make up his crew; there is no indication that they were uninvited or late in arriving. While two men meet with tragic fates on the voyage – one abandoned on the Island of Joy (though he may have been retrieved later as Bran is advised to do), and the other dies when he touches the ground of Ireland after their long absence – neither is definitively his fosterbrother. In the Immram curaig Ua Corra, there are some individuals who impose themselves upon the company (the man who builds their ship) and/or join the expedition at the last minute (a clown or satirist [crosán]). Their motives appear to be admirable, but nevertheless one, presumed to be the shipwright, meets the same fate as so many others, unwillingly abandoned on an island. The crosán dies, which may be taken as a negative judgment upon him if he did not visit the crew later as a spirit ascending to heaven. So while Immram Brain seems to argue against impulsiveness but have no real opinion on authority, the Immram curaig Ua Corra is unclear as to what import the latecoming passengers and their behavior are meant to convey. Immram Brain, pp. 38 and 43-45; ‘The Voyage of the Húi Corra’, pp. 38-41. For an exploration of the crosán, which appears to have been another itinerant, marginal figure in Irish society, see Harrison, The Irish Trickster, pp. 35-53. 122 Navigatio sancti Brendani, p. 11.



thirst. For we will suffer in ailithre for all the days of our lives’). Though their stated claim is admirable, the three brothers had not gone through the rigorous preparations of Brendan and his fellow crewmates. Brendan had selected his companions specially,123 and by blackmailing their way onto their superior’s boat, the three monks are disobeying their abbot in violation of monastic rules. Moreover, the ever-prescient Brendan perceives that two of them, at least, have ulterior motives, though he does not say what they are. He warns, however, ‘Scio quomodo uos uenistis. Iste frater bonum opus operatus est. Nam Deus preparauit sibi aptissimum locum. Vobis autem preparabit teterrimum iudicium’124 (‘I know why you are coming. One brother here has performed good deeds. Therefore God has prepared a most f itting place for him. However for you [others] he has prepared a terrible judgment’). Whatever the motives behind it, this impulsive, rebellious act leads to the loss of all three of the latecoming monks. One ignores Brendan’s direct order and steals a necklace at the f irst island visited. He is revealed to be possessed by a demon and dies soon after.125 Another walks off the boat and into the mouth of an island volcano, understood as a gate to hell, screaming all the while that he is being compelled against his will.126 While this brother’s sins are not disclosed, his final scene shows a dramatic reversal of fortune for him as demonstrated through his movement: willful, he trespassed against God and forced his way onto his abbot’s boat against his wishes, taking the journey he desired rather than the one prescribed for him. As a result, he ultimately loses all agency, being compelled despite his resistance to an action that destroys his body just as thoroughly as his previous ill-advised machinations destroyed his soul. However, while a Christian may choose the wrong path, the Navigatio demonstrates that it is possible to correct one’s conduct in the course of a journey. Between these two deaths of the latecoming monks is the loss of their companion, the one for whom ‘Deus preparauit […] aptissimum locum’. While he remains living, he leaves the expedition to reside in an ascetic community on a fantastical island, dead to his previous companions and 123 Navigatio sancti Brendani, p. 9. 124 Navigatio sancti Brendani, pp. 11-12. 125 Navigatio sancti Brendani, pp. 12-16. The account of this monk is quite similar to the death of the first fosterbrother in the Immram curaig Maíle Dúine, though the latter has no explicitly Christian imagery attached to it. The intruder steals a necklace, but instead of proving possessed and dying after his exorcism, he is attacked by a magical cat that guarded the treasure and is reduced to ashes. The Voyage of Máel Dúin, pp. 120-123. 126 Navigatio sancti Brendani, pp. 64-67.

Imitating Exile in Early Medieval Ireland


to the world.127 This fate has some relation to those of the fosterbrothers who are abandoned on islands in the Immram curaig Maíle Dúine; in this, one brother is left in a land where men are insanely happy and another where they are inconsolably sad. In Immram Brain, too, one member of the crew is abandoned on an Inis Subai (‘Isle of Joy’).128 In all these cases the inhabitants’ emotions are such that they cannot communicate with the crew, and when the men touch the land and breathe the air they too take on the characteristics of the natives.129 In the Navigatio, the men of the island sing ecstatically and seem rather transported by their faith – yet this is a good thing, and the brother’s departure is seen to be an honor rather than a curse. For the monk dragged to hell, Brendan cries out as he disappears, ‘Ve tibi, fili, quia recepisti in uita tua meriti talem finem’ (‘Woe to you, my son, for you have received the frightful end you have earned in your life’); in contrast, in his farewell to the good brother, he says ‘Bona hora concepit te mater tua, quia meruisti habitare cum tali congregacione’130 (‘Blessed [was] the hour that your mother conceived you, for you have earned your place with this remarkable congregation’). Nothing is said of the monk’s own desire or reluctance to leave the boat and join the community; in this instance, Brendan’s formerly disobedient charge has learned to accept his abbot’s authority. His action’s similarity to the punishment of delinquents in other immrama can be read as a reflection of the relation of ailithre to criminal punishment, as a form of chastisement freely adopted in penance that in turn reveals his forgiveness in its benevolence. Moreover, his ready willingness to accept his abbot’s order and/or the ascetic lifestyle speaks to his worthiness in itself; once an individual adheres to the course of obedience, there is no barrier to achieving God’s reward despite any past sins. The reward of a past sinner who accepts God’s authority in going adrift is a common motif within the immrama as well, introducing a new concept to the tradition of punitive exile – rehabilitation. When Mac Cuill carries out Patrick’s sentence in Muirchú’s Vita, his boat washes ashore on the Isle of Man. He converts to Christianity, aids in the conversion of the island, and later becomes its bishop.131 Clancy says of this episode, which he sees as representative of the immram tradition, that ‘What we have then in this tale is a sea-voyage, in which God is the guide, protector, and steersman, which 127 Navigatio sancti Brendani, pp. 49-53. 128 Immram Brain, pp. 43-44. 129 The Voyage of Máel Dúin, pp. 128-131 and 164-167. 130 Navigatio sancti Brendani, pp. 52 and 64. 131 Muichú maccu Macthéni, Vita sancti Patricii, pp. 104-107.



is prescribed as the penance for the worst sort of sinner one can imagine […] The result of the voyage is a cleansing, such that Mac Cuill even becomes a saint himself. The message, then, is one of potential forgiveness’.132 That forgiveness, however, hinges upon a closer association of that mercy with the concept of God as the driver in one’s life, for it is only through giving up one’s agency to him – by going adrift or accepting the authority of his representatives – that one achieves their penance in the immrama. A striking example of this ethos can be seen in the earliest prose version of Immram Snédgusa ocus Maic Riagla (c. late 11th Century) from the Yellow Book of Lecan. The tenth-century poetic version, the earliest extant copy of the tale, focuses mostly on the two clerics and the wonders they encounter; the prose, however, gives greater attention to the event which inspired their ailithre, the setting adrift of one hundred and twenty criminals as punishment for murder. The murder was of a king, and the condemned were all of the Fir Rois. The story opens by stating, Bai dochraite mor for Feraib Rois iar ndith Domnaill mic Ædha mic Ainmireach, 7 ba he fochond a ndochraide. Iar ngabail Érind do macaib Mæl Coba tareis Domnaill batar mic Domnaill ir-ríghi Chenéoil Conaill 7 Fer Rois .i. Dondchud 7 Fiacho; Dondchud ar tír Conaill 7 Fiacha ar ḟeraib Rois. Ba mor a ndochraidi-side ic Fiacho.133 There was great oppression over the Fir Rois after the death of Domnall son of Aed son of Ainmire, and this was the cause of their oppression. When Ireland was taken after Domnall by the sons of Mael Coba, Domnall’s sons Donnchad and Fiacha were high-kings of the Cenél Conaill and the Fir Rois – Donnchad was over Tyrconnell and Fiacha over the Fir Rois. Great was their oppression under Fiacha.

At its outset, then, this version of the immram seeks to garner sympathy for the Fir Rois and thus justify their eventual killing of Fiacha; this is not the case in the later, twelfth-century prose text, which instead emphasizes the fair treatment they received from the king.134 And so, while the Fir Rois are condemned and punished in the original prose version, their action is depicted as understandable if not just, and the stage is set for their ultimate redemption much like that of Mac Cuill. Sure enough, Snédgus and Mac 132 Clancy, ‘Subversion at Sea’, p. 203. 133 ‘The Voyage of Snedgus and Mac Riagla’, pp. 14-17. 134 Zwei Versionem der mittelirischen Legende von Snedgus und Mac Riagla, pp. 31-32.

Imitating Exile in Early Medieval Ireland


Riagla, already inspired by the example of the Fir Rois, eventually come to an island ruled by an Irish king. He reveals himself to be the leader of the Fir Rois, the one who dealt Fiacha his killing blow. The journey had cleansed them, ‘ar is maith atam cen pecadh, cen col, cen gail ar cinadh’ (‘for we are good, without blame, without crime, without the stain of our sin’), and they now are pure enough to reside on their island in the presence of the prophets Enoch and Elijah until Judgment Day.135 Clancy, who provides a thorough reading of this and the various other differences among the various early versions of Immram Snédgusa ocus Maic Riagla, emphasizes the juxtaposition of the kings in this first prose piece: there is Fiacha, an unjust ruler (who is also compared to his judicious brother), and the other, a murderer, but a repentant one who earns the throne of a divine island.136 This arrangement serves a political function as an attempted rehabilitation of the Fir Rois, but the mechanism by which this is accomplished is one inherent to the immram. The Fir Rois have the humility to entrust their conduct to the will of God, and as such they are rewarded and their leader brought to an even higher level than he already held as an under-king. It is this same willingness to obey the manifestation of God’s intent that rehabilitates Mac Cuill, brings Máel Dúin to his destination, and saves the good souls in the boats of St. Brendan and the Uí Chorra. The medieval Irish immram genre displays a consistent correspondence between its characters’ physical conduct through space upon the ocean and the behavioral conduct with which they lead their lives. Those who are obedient to God demonstrate this commitment by acting out this trust literally, releasing their boats out into the ocean and refusing to steer. The Irish performed such acts of piety in real life, and so it can never be known how many perished, dying in doldrums or lost in storms, dashed against rocks or washed up in hostile, alien territory. Yet in the fictional world of the immrama, such dramatic gestures of total devotion are rewarded. God allows trusty servants such as Brendan, Snédgus, and Mac Riagla to behold wonders and receive prophecy and return to Ireland to report what they saw; for penitents and criminals accepting of their punishment, they find a just reward provided by their Lord. Such stories serve as blueprints for one’s own conduct in the world, though one need not carry out so extreme an action to adhere to the spirit of the story. Obedience to God and its practices can be expressed through everyday acts as well, and the events that concern the immram exhibit these modes of conduct alongside the flashier ailithre. 135 ‘The Voyage of Snedgus and Mac Riagla’, pp. 22-23. 136 See Clancy, ‘Subversion at Sea’, pp. 212-225, p. 216 for this particular point.



One obvious example of small demonstrations of obedience lies within the improbable regularity of Brendan’s voyage. As Dorothy Ann Bray notes, the journey adheres to a set pattern: its events follow the liturgical year, and they celebrate their holy days in the same location each time. Throughout, they are diligent in their prayers and rituals and each monk continues the same work that they had on land.137 The life of the monks on the sea is no different from theirs in the monastery, and that they persist so diligently in their monastic rule emphasizes the importance of discipline to the creator of the text and its audience. The monks on St. Brendan’s boat – with the exception of the three latecomers – conduct themselves as they should, and the setting in which they do it is irrelevant to this point; so too is the case for anyone who takes this message from the text. As the immrama show, travel is an occasion for the exotic yet its lessons are for everyday use; the same can be said for the example of the outlaw. Few if any of those encountering the stories of these holy outcasts would ever find themselves adrift upon the sea, either by choice or by compulsion. Nevertheless, the lessons conveyed by those specific circumstances carried salience well beyond the confines of a little, lonely boat.

137 Bray, ‘Allegory in the Navigatio sancti Brendani’, pp. 178-179.


Lessons of Conduct in Anglo-Saxon England

Irish Conduct in Anglo-Saxon England? A modest yet dangerous expedition is undertaken in the third chapter of Bede’s Vita sancti Cuthberti, when several monks from a community on the south bank of the Tyne leave the monastery to forage for timber. On the return journey, carrying their provisions on rafts, they position themselves on the opposite bank and attempt to cross, only to find themselves blown by a sudden squall towards the river mouth. A rescue force dispatched soon finds itself in the same straits, and the monks are left drifting out into the open sea with nothing but their own prayers and those of their brethren on shore to save them. Yet there are other observers of this crisis, ‘uulgaris turba non modica’ (‘a mob of common people of no small size’), who quickly conclude that they are already witnessing divine intervention in action: [C]oepit irridere uitam conuersationis eorum, quasi merito talia paterentur, qui communia mortalium iura spernentes, noua et ignota darent statuta uiuendi […] Nullus inquiunt hominum pro eis roget nullius eorum misereatur Deus, qui et ueteres culturas hominibus tulere, et nouas qualiter obseruare debeant nemo nouit.1 They proceeded to mock their [the monks’] method of living (uitam conuersationis), as if they were suffering so deservedly (merito), those who spurned the common laws of mortals and offered new and unfamiliar rules for living […] [The commoners said,] ‘May no one pray on behalf of them, nor ask God to pity any one of them! They rob men of their ancient customs (ueteres culturas) and no one knows how they are supposed to observe the new ways’.

It is somewhat unclear as to what the veteres culturae are which the crowd on the shore claims the monks have abolished. The laypeople may be stubborn heathens, or they may be partisans in the ecclesiastical conflicts which roiled 1 Bede, Vita sancti Cuthberti, pp. 162-165. The episode exists in Bede’s metrical version as well. Bedas metrische Vita sancti Cuthberti, pp. 65-67.



Britain in Bede’s and Cuthbert’s days. In either case, in their interpretation of the events which unfold before them and in the characterization of the perceived crimes of the monks, they express belief in the concept of conduct such as was outlined in the Irish immrama. The behavior of the monks is described as their vita conversationis, their customary way of life. It may have seemed apt to those on shore that the failure of the brethren in conducting themselves across the Tyne should indicate the failure of their spiritual conduct as well. After all, whatever is happening to the men is merito, ‘deserved’, just as the fates of the characters of the immrama reflect the degrees of their morality. If the men on the shore are meant to represent proponents of Celtic Christianity in opposition to the Roman practices which Bede has Cuthbert champion, are the ideas they express likewise to be characterized as peculiarly Irish? Charles D. Wright has outlined well the difficulty in attempting to prove such transmission given the paucity of sources and complex interconnectedness of influence that marks both early Irish and Anglo-Saxon literature.2 Given these concerns, one should not accept a series of simple correspondences as proof of Irish influence, which Wright defines as ‘specific themes and rhetorical formulations from Irish or Hiberno-Latin writings’.3 On one hand, there is a good deal of circumstantial evidence that would suggest Ireland as a probable exporter of the conduct concept to Britain. An entire genre of its literature, the immram, was devoted to it, and these works likely predate most Anglo-Saxon material. Irish influence is also manifest in other aspects of early Anglo-Saxon Christian society, as Ireland’s churchmen were highly active in evangelizing Northumbria. The Irish also seemed to act out a belief in the principles of conduct through ailithre, a practice rare to Anglo-Saxon England, at least as far as can be historically proven. The first generation of Anglo-Saxons inspired to evangelize on the Continent – Wihtberht, Ecgbert, Ecgbert’s disciple Willibrord, and Willibrord’s initial companions – are those with the greatest connections to Irish Christianity, which suggests that their desire to travel may be the result of its influence. 4 Anglo-Saxon saints like Guthlac and Cuthbert who were attracted to hermitage in possible imitation of ailithre, are likewise 2 Wright, The Irish Tradition in Old English Literature, pp. 1-11. 3 Wright, The Irish Tradition in Old English Literature, p. 11. 4 Bede, Ecclesiastical History, pp. 474-485; Alcuin, Vita Willibrordi, pp. 118-119; Levison, England and the Continent in the Eighth Century, pp. 44 and 55-56; Campbell, ‘The Debt of the Early English Church to Ireland’, pp. 332-346; and Richter, Ireland and Her Neighbours in the Seventh Century, pp. 144-152.

Lessons of Conduct in Anglo -Sa xon England


early and associated with Celtic Christianity.5 The earliest vitae of these saints, moreover, were modeled after the Vita of Antony, the originator of the Egyptian eremiticism that so influenced the Irish.6 It is evident that the Anglo-Saxons were at the very least working in part from the same tradition that inspired the Irish. Just as ailithre took its inspiration from criminal punishment and then expanded its scope, an exploration of mobility within Anglo-Saxon England covers far more activity than just the movement of outlaws. However, ultimately, by examining the idea in its broader form we can gain insight into the importance of outlaws specifically. This is especially important due to the lower prevalence of ailithre – and its tradition of treating oneself as a criminal – in early England. This in itself may point to the concept’s initial foreignness to Anglo-Saxon thought. Beginning in the ninth century, ailithre began to decline among the Irish, in part due to the influences of the Benedictine reform.7 The Anglo-Saxons both saw a more extensive restructuring of their devotional lives by the Benedictines and also adopted Christianity later than the Irish, leaving them a smaller window of opportunity to be influenced by the Irish prior to reform.8 Yet the same archipelagic environment which encouraged the development of immrama, ailithre, and the indigenous punishment of criminals in Irish tradition was present in Britain, and the Anglo-Saxons were as much a wayfaring people as the Irish. Moreover, as shall be seen, the use of conduct in Anglo-Saxon literature is of a different character from much of the Irish, which points to a homegrown quality in the underlying thinking, or at least further development of the idea in an 5 See Clayton, ‘Hermits and the Contemplative Life in Anglo-Saxon England’, pp. 147-175. For Cuthbert’s Irish connections, see Dunleavy, Colum’s Other Island; and Thacker, ‘Lindisfarne and the Origins of the Cult of St. Cuthbert’, p. 112. Guthlac never went to Ireland but traveled some time as a fighter along the Mercian-British border. Felix of Crowland, in his Vita of the saint, even states that he had spent time as an exile (‘exulabat’) among the Britons. Felix’s Life of Saint Guthlac, p. 110. Though it is difficult to determine the character of the early British church, and it should not be assumed that British and Irish practice can be fully equated under the umbrella of ‘Celtic Christianity’, the two cultures do appear to have shared a desire for eremiticism that may account for Guthlac’s actions. See Slover, ‘Early Literary Channels between Ireland and Britain’, pp. 5-52 and 5-111; Bowen, Saints, Seaways and Settlements in the Celtic Lands; Chadwick ‘Early Literary Contacts between Wales and Ireland’, pp. 66-77; Davies, Wales in the Early Middle Ages, pp. 141-168; and Mac Cana, ‘Ireland and Wales in the Middle Ages’, pp. 29-33. 6 Kurtz, ‘From St. Antony to St. Guthlac’, pp. 103-146; and Stancliffe, ‘Cuthbert and the Polarity between Pastor and Solitary’, p. 25. 7 Hughes, ‘The Changing Theory and Practice of Irish Pilgrimage’, pp. 146-147; and Bray, ‘Allegory in the Navigatio Sancti Brendani’, pp. 181-182. 8 Indeed, Hughes posits that the Anglo-Saxons may themselves be responsible for tempering the Irish desire for ailithre. ‘The Changing Theory and Practice of Irish Pilgrimage’, p. 145.



Anglo-Saxon context. Ultimately the question of transmission remains open, and a failure to answer it definitively does not prevent further examination of the concept of conduct within Anglo-Saxon literature. After all, one can find plenty of encouragement towards mobility in the Bible itself, with no mediation necessary. Movement from place to place is a common phenomenon in both the Old and New Testaments, which encourage believers to equate themselves with the figure of the wayfarer.9 The history of the patriarchs is one of constant movement within a pastoral society.10 Noah’s preparations give him a mobility that allows him to survive when the entirety of the world is washed away – when all other humans are tied to the earth and therefore doomed, only Noah, due to his closeness to God, is able to leave it all behind.11 Less spectacularly, his descendants are constantly on the move, often at God’s insistence.12 Joseph is taken against his will to Egypt under straightened circumstances but soon finds success in his new surroundings. Ultimately, his initial misfortune saves his people but later enslaves them.13 This necessitates another great movement, the mass migration of Exodus.14 This formative experience is cited elsewhere in the Torah to encourage sympathy for immigrants, as ‘vos ergo amate peregrinos quia et ipsi fuistis advenae in terra Aegypti’15 (‘you therefore love the itinerant, since you too were foreigners in the land of Egypt’). Moreover, while later in their history the Hebrews settled in Jerusalem, they still emphasized their wandering roots in the selection of leaders, such as David, who came from a pastoral background,16 and the Babylonian Captivity and their eventual return further reinforced the peripatetic spirit of the 9 For an extended overview of the biblical depiction of travel, see Dyas, Pilgrimage in Medieval English Literature, pp. 12-26. 10 This same point is made in Monga, ‘Travel and Travel Writing’, pp. 9-10. 11 Gen. 7. Biblia sacra. Punctuation has been added. For the significance of Noah’s ark as an allegory in the early church, see Rahner, Symbole der Kirche, pp. 504-547. 12 See, for instance, God’s command to Abram in Gen. 12.1: ‘Exi de terra tua et de domo patris tua, et uade in terram quam tibi monstrauero’ (‘Leave your land and your father’s house and go into the land that I will indicate for you’). 13 Gen. 37, 39-41, 46-47; and Ex. 1. Note especially Gen. 46.3, God’s command to Jacob: ‘descende in Aegyptum quia in gentem magnam faciam te ibi’ (‘Go down into Egypt wherefore I will make for you a great people’). 14 Ex. 6.8: ‘induxerim in terram super quam levavi manum meam ut darem eam Abraham Isaac et Iacob daboque illam vobis’ (‘I brought [you] into the land over which I raised my hand so as to give it to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and [now] I give it to you’). 15 Deut. 10.19. For a discussion of the development of this section of Deuteronomy, see Kidd, Alterity and Identity in Israel, pp. 81-84. 16 1 Sm. 16.11, Jesse’s response to Samuel as to whether he has any other sons to be considered for the kingship: ‘reliquus est parvulus et pascit oves’ (‘a young one remains and he watches the

Lessons of Conduct in Anglo -Sa xon England


Old Testament,17 as did later biblical commentary.18 The emphasis on the pastoral is continued in the New, where Christ is of course the ‘pastor bonus’ (‘good shepherd’) and mankind his sheep.19 Other local types of mobility and local economy are alluded to as well in Christ’s use of sea imagery. He describes men’s souls as being harvested as fish are from a net – and the apostles are of course ‘piscatores hominum’20 (‘fishers of men’). Christ, born on a journey and raised abroad,21 himself takes a number of trips to various locations in Judaea and beyond, culminating in his triumphal entrance into Jerusalem; Acts, too, focuses on the movements of his disciples, finishing with Paul’s hair-raising passage to Rome.22 The Epistles as well encourage their audiences not to remain in one place and to think of themselves as in transit.23 Paul characterizes life as a journey to ‘Sion montem et civitatem Dei viventis Hierusalem caelestem’ (‘Mt. Zion and the City of the Living God, heavenly Jerusalem’); Peter, for his part, encourages believers to think of themselves as ‘advenas et peregrines’ (‘foreigners and wanderers’).24 The cumulative effect is a religion that is reflexively inclined towards movement and towards conceiving of itself and its practices in terms of action and sheep’). Soon afterward David calls upon his experience as a shepherd to defeat Goliath. 1 Sm. 17.34-37. 17 The Psalms, naturally, are often written from the perspective of the exile. Cf. Ps. 118.19, ‘advena ego sum in terra’ (‘I am a stranger in the world’). Kidd sees the Babylonian Captivity as a fulcrum point in the Jews’ perceptions of foreigners, one which greatly increased their identification with the exile. Alterity and Identity in Israel, pp. 83 and 96-98. 18 Augustine’s identification of Abel with the civitate Dei peregrinans is a good example of this. He asserts ‘Scriptum est itaque de Cain, quod condiderit ciuitatem; Abel autem tamquam peregrinus non condidit’ (‘There is therefore in scripture concerning Cain that he founded a city; Abel, in contrast, a wanderer, founded none’). Augustine, De civitate Dei, I, p. 454. Augustine is basing his assertion off of Gen. 4.17, but this verse only establishes Cain’s urban association; Abel, by needs the opposite of his brother (‘tamquam’), is therefore the peregrinus. This is despite the fact that Cain is also identified as being rootless (Gen. 4.13), though Abel does have pastoral associations (Gen. 4.2). In a North Atlantic context, Bede adopted Augustine’s theory of wandering in his own commentary on Genesis. See Kendall, Introduction, Bede: On Genesis, pp. 14-17. 19 John 10.11-16. This, of course, is reminiscent of God the Father’s comparison to a shepherd in Ps. 22. 20 Matt. 4.19, 13.47-50; Mark 1.17. 21 McCone, Pagan Past and Christian Present, p. 197. 22 Matt. 2, 4.1, 21.1-11; Mark 6.1, 11.1-10; Luke 2.1-7, 4.1, 7.1, 8.1, 19.1, 29-48; John 4.4-5, 5.1, 6.1, 7.1, 8.1, 12.12-14; and Acts 27-28. 23 This is, of course, in line with Christ’s charge to them in Matt. 10 and Luke 9.1-6, 10.1-12. For an overview of the call to travel in the Bible, see Hofinger, ‘The Pilgrimage, Symbol of the Christian Life’, p. 260. 24 Hebr. 12.22; and 1Pt. 2.11. See also 2 Cor. 5:6-7.



foreignness. This is a tradition that was further developed by the early Christian writers and put to great use, most prominently in Augustine’s conception of the peripatetic City of God.

Cynewulf and the Life as Journey Given such numerous potential influences upon Anglo-Saxon Christianity, therefore, it is not difficult to find metaphors of motion employed in Anglo-Saxon literature or see travelers held up as models of behavior.25 A prominent example are the four poems positively attributed to Cynewulf, each of which makes use of journey imagery in its exploration of Christian morality. In Cynewulf’s output, we can see utilization of a trope in its basic form, yet also discern the beginnings of its further development. Anglo-Saxon culture may have been particularly receptive to the association of mobility and morality. Its most common word for a journey, sið, could also mean ‘experience’ or ‘fate’ in the sense of ‘the course (sið) of one’s life’.26 This particular flexibility is seen in no other language in the region,27 and as such it presented the opportunity for additional depth of meaning in Anglo-Saxon works written in the vernacular. Cynewulf’s shortest piece, Fates of the Apostles,28 is where the semantic possibilities of sið are deployed most explicitly. The ostensible topic of the poem, which briefly relates the exotic locations of the Twelve Apostles’ martyrdoms, is literal journeying. Consequently, when the narrator declares at the outset 25 Two other Anglo-Saxon examples which will not be referenced later in the project can be found in the Vercelli Book. There is the discussion of the ‘sawle sið’ (‘journey of the soul’) that opens Soul and Body I (ASPR 2, line 2a); as well as the narrator being ‘afysed on forðwege’ (‘spurred onto the journey’) at the end of The Dream of the Rood (ASPR 2, line 125a). 26 ‘Sið’, An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, p. 878. 27 This conclusion, of course, is based solely on what writing from each language survives. Other meanings the word could carry are shared, however, with corresponding terms in Old Irish, Old Icelandic, and Latin. See pp. 80-81 for examples of this phenomenon. For the range of meanings possible in Old English, and a thorough comparison of sið with its cognates in related languages, see Jankowsky, ‘OE Sîð and Stund in Old Germanic and Indo-European Environment’, pp. 353-383. Jankowsky argues that an understanding of fate is at the core of the term’s meaning throughout the development of the Germanic languages, but he uncovers no incidence of the word or its cognates carrying that explicit definition outside of Old English. 28 For background to Fates, see Calder, Cynewulf, pp. 27-41 (the rest of the book is likewise a good source for the same information on the other three works in Cynewulf’s known corpus). See also Brooks, introduction to Andreas and The Fates of the Apostles, pp. xxx-xxxi; and Anderson, Cynewulf: Structure, Style, and Theme in His Poetry, pp. 68-83.

Lessons of Conduct in Anglo -Sa xon England


that he is siðgeomor29 (‘sið-weary’), it is natural to read his situation as that of the exhausted traveler. This reading is capable of carrying one through the majority of the poem, but once Cynewulf transitions into his work’s denouement, he invests sið and the mobility it implies with a more metaphysical meaning: liðra on lade, eardwic uncuð, lætan me on laste wælreaf, wunigean an elles forð sið asettan, of þisse worulde; eard ond eðel.30

Huru ic freonda beþearf þonne ic sceal langne ham, ana gesecean, lic eorðan dæl, weormum to hroðre […] […] Ic sceal feor heonan, eardes neosan, nat ic sylfa hwær, wic sindon uncuð,

Indeed, I need gentle friends on the journey when I must be away from home a long time, alone on a quest to a dwelling unknown, leaving behind at last my body, a part of the earth, spoils lying among the worms for their pleasure […] I must henceforth go alone elsewhere, seek out a homeland, go on a journey from this world to I myself know not where; the dwelling, land, and country are unknown.

Cynewulf reveals at the end of Fates that the sið he is to take, as the speaker, is his life. Its destination, heaven, is unknown (uncuð) to him, but nevertheless he knows it to be his true home (eardwic, eard, and eðel). For this reason, the most recent editor of the poem, Kenneth R. Brooks, believes that translating siðgeomor as ‘travel-weary’ is ‘very odd in the context’ and recommends instead ‘“sad as a consequence of my experiences”, i.e. “weary of life”’.31 Yet in truth sið signifies both, just as the martyrdoms of the Apostles which make up the heart of the poem mark both the ends of their journeys and the ends of their lives. They, however, are siðfrome,32 a compound which like sið itself is bivalent – the Apostles are both ‘eager for travel’ and ‘prepared for a journey’, in contrast to the speaker. This is despite the extreme hardship of 29 Cynewulf, The Fates of the Apostles, line 1b. 30 Cynewulf, Fates of the Apostles, lines 91b-95 and 109b-113a. 31 Cynewulf, Fates of the Apostles, p. 119n. 32 Cynewulf, Fates of the Apostles, line 77a.



their experiences on the voyage. Indeed, the sufferings of the Apostles have prompted some readers of the poem to read it as predominantly negative towards mobility.33 Yet from a Christian perspective such privation as the Apostles experience can be seen as the necessary wages of a successful journey. As Constance B. Hieatt interprets the piece’s stance towards sið, ‘Only after examining the journeys of the siðfrome apostles can the poet contemplate his own sið without feeling siðgeomor, and finally advise us all to aim our individual journeys towards heaven’.34 That the speaker can derive inspiration from such harrowing experiences speaks to the importance of opposition on the spiritual journey – the Apostles’ fates are bracing, not dispiriting – but at the same time it shows how easily physical progress can be equated with the metaphysical kind in Anglo-Saxon literature. As such, it is a metaphor analogous to that found in the Irish tradition. All four of Cynewulf’s poems follow to some extent the pattern outlined above in Fates of the Apostles – forward movement referenced in a context that is receptive to a literal understanding, followed by an evocation of travel in a metaphorical sense that encourages a re-evaluation of the discussion of the action that came before. The process is most apparent in Fates, perhaps due to its leanness, but the other three works of Cynewulf vary too in the explicitness of their allusions. The closing of Elene is concerned primarily with the Final Judgment,35 yet the poet speaks as well of being ‘cnyssed cearwelmum’ (‘tossed by waves of worry’) as ‘lifwynne geliden swa 7 toglideð,/ flodas gefysde’ (‘life’s pleasures sailed off just like [water] flowed and the currents rushed away’).36 Non-nautical travel is referenced as well, as he ‘milpaðas mæt’ (‘measures the mile-paths’).37 Juliana is more direct, as Cynewulf states. 33 ‘Each of the lives of the apostles is a triumphant victory over the afflictions of mortal exis­ tence, yet the narrator finds no consolation for his own heartache in the process of recounting the fates of the apostles’. McBrine, ‘The Journey Motif in the Poems of the Vercelli Book’, p. 299. Note that just because the invocation of travel fails to help the narrator in McBrine’s reading, this does not preclude his sadness being addressed in another way. 34 Hieatt, ‘The Fates of the Apostles: Imagery, Structure, and Meaning’, p. 69. For other positive readings vis-à-vis travel, see Calder, Cynewulf, pp. 33-35 and 40; and Kowalik, ‘The Motif of Journey in Cynewulf’s Fates of the Apostles’, pp. 105-107. 35 Anderson sees in the eschatological ending to Elene a reference, however, to Augustine’s ideas on travel as manifested in the concept of civitate Dei peregrinans, a reading which subsequently affects the reading of the entirety of the poem. Cynewulf: Structure, Style, and Theme, pp. 146-159. 36 This is perhaps part of a larger theme of transience, as most of the terms which Cynewulf uses in this section – in his use of runes and other imagery – are notable for their impermanence. Anderson, Cynewulf: Structure, Style, and Theme, pp. 151-152. 37 Cynewulf, Elene, lines 1257a, 1262a and 1268-1269a.

Lessons of Conduct in Anglo -Sa xon England

sawul on siðfæt, eardes uncyðgu; secan oþerne


Min sceal of lice nat ic sylfa hwider, of sceal ic þissum, ærgewyrhtum, gongan iudædum.38

My soul must [go] from my body on a journey – I myself, ignorant of my homeland, know not where. I must seek the alternative to these former works, depart from past deeds.

The sentiment, with its emphasis on departure and acknowledgement that the destination is unknown, is especially reminiscent of Fates of the Apostles. The most extended use by Cynewulf of mobility as metaphor, and the one most clearly indebted to patristic Christianity, is the conclusion of Christ II. Scholars have known for some time now that Cynewulf’s source for this poem is Gregory I’s homily on the Ascension,39 a pedigree which indebts it to a theologian who himself made great use of the concept of movement in his own works. Gregory’s brief use of the allusion in the piece is quite representative as he writes, ‘Quamuis adhuc rerum perturbationibus animus fluctuet, iam tamen spei uestrae ancorem in aeternam patriam figite, intentionem mentis in uera luce solidate’40 (‘Even though your soul may be tossed by a turmoil of matters, now instead secure the anchor of your hope in the eternal fatherland, set the focus of [your] mind on the true light’). Cynewulf expands Gregory’s words here into: Nu is þon gelicost ofer cald wæter geond sidne sæ, flodwudu fergen. yða ofermæta geond þas wacan woruld, ofer deop gelad. ærþon we to londe ofer hreone hrycg.

swa we on laguflode ceolum liðan sundhengestum, Is þæt frecne stream þe we her on lacað windge holmas Wæs se drohtað strong geliden hæfdon Þa us help bicwom,

38 Cynewulf, Juliana, ASPR 3, lines 699b-703a. 39 Dietrich, ‘Cynevulfs Crist’, pp. 193-214; Cook, The Christ of Cynewulf, pp. xliii and 167; and Sources and Analogues of Old English Poetry, pp. 78-81. 40 Gregory, Homilia XXIX, Homiliae in evangelia, p. 254 (chpt. 11).


þæt us to hælo godes gæstsunu, þæt we oncnawan magun hwær we sælen sceolon ealde yðmearas, Utan us to þære hyðe ða us gerymde halge on heahþu,


hyþe gelædde, ond us giefe sealed ofer ceoles bord sundhengestas, ancrum fæste. hyht staþelian, rodera waldend, þa he heofonum astag. 41

Now it is especially as if we sail upon the ocean, over cold water on ships, across the broad sea on ocean steeds, carried by sea timbers. That is a harrowing route of towering waves which we ride upon here in this unstable world, windy waters over a profound path. The way was arduous before we had reached land over the rugged sea. Then came help to us, that which led us to safe harbor, God’s divine Son, and He granted us grace so that we may perceive over the deck of the ship where we shall secure the sea-steeds, ancient ocean-rides, fast with anchors. Let us entrust our hopes within that haven which the Ruler of Heaven, holy up on high, opened to us when he ascended to heaven.

Cynewulf takes Gregory’s original, fleeting sentiment and expands it so as to affirm its point. The troubles which the traveler, and the Christian, must endure are difficult and many, and yet the message of both works is to face them bravely, since the only true shelter from the travails of the journey is the Kingdom of Heaven. As with Fates of the Apostles, the deployment of this motif at the conclusion of Cynewulf’s works invests the incidences of physical movement in these pieces with a greater meaning. In Christ II it is God himself who moves – ‘munt gestylleð,/ gehleapeð hea dune, hyllas ond cnollas’42 (‘he springs upon the crag, leaps to the high mountains, hills and peaks’) – his leaps from life to death to heaven both showing humankind the way to paradise43 as well making such a voyage possible. Elene, too, is a holy example, just as 41 Cynewulf, Christ II, ASPR 3, lines 850-866. 42 Cynewulf, Christ II, lines 716b-717. 43 In Catholic theology, ‘According to the actual order of salvation, the return to God is essentially in the imitation of Christ’. Hofinger, ‘The Pilgrimage, Symbol of the Christian Life’, p. 262. This portion too is based upon Gregory’s Homilia XXIX, p. 253 (chpt. 10), which in turn takes from Cant. 2.8. For the signif icance of Christ’s motion here in reference to Christian theology on his successive descents and ascents, see Brown, ‘The Descent-Ascent Motif in Christ II of Cynewulf’, pp. 133-146; and Marchand, ‘The Leaps of Christ and The Dream of the Rood’,

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were the Apostles, and her regal journey to the Holy Land serves as model for the confidence with which the Christian should face the world – as well as makes clear the preparation and determination needed to achieve success in the endeavor. 44 Juliana, for its part, is closest to the expression of conduct found in the immrama when it tells us what becomes of Juliana’s persecutor Eliseus: to scipe sceohmod Heliseus leolc ofer laguflod on swonrade. secga hloþe ærþon hy to lande þurh þærlic þrea. ond freowere eac þurh wæges wylm heane mid hlaford, hyhta lease

Þa se synscaþa sceaþena þreate ehstream sohte, longe hwile Swylt ealle fornom ond hine sylfne mid, geliden hæfdon, Þær XXX wæs feores onsohte wigena cynnes, hroþra bidæled, helle sohton. 45

Then the craven sinner Eliseus, along with his troop of malefactors, sought a sea route, careened over the expanse of water for some time on the swan’s road. Death by violent penalty consumed the entire company of men and him with them before they had gotten to land. Thirty warlike souls and another four were there sacrificed ignominiously with their lord through the swell of the waves; deprived of pleasures, devoid of hopes, they sought out Hell.

Eliseus meets his death upon the sea, along with all of his followers, just as the disobedient foster-brothers and monks of the immrama do. The detail is not unique to Cynewulf, 46 just as the immrama echo the travails of older figures such as Jonah. Nevertheless, it is an indication of a similar thinking on the matter of conduct as one finds more explicitly in Ireland. pp. 80-89. The leaps of Christ can also be seen in Celtic material, as shown by Breeze, ‘Varia IV’, pp. 190-193. 44 Cynewulf, Elene, lines 225-275. 45 Cynewulf, Juliana, lines 671b-682. 46 Sources and Analogues, pp. 121-132, esp. p. 132. For the relationship of Cynewulf’s Juliana to the wider tradition of the martyr, see Woolf, Introduction, Juliana, pp. 75-76.



Those parallels can also be seen in the writings of Anglo-Saxon churchmen as well. Rhetoric like that of Columbanus is echoed by Boniface, who like the Irishman had an ‘amor peregrinatoris’47 (‘love of wandering’). He likewise sounds very much like Columbanus when he asks God – ‘qui causa est peregrinationis nostrae’ (‘who is the inspiration for our wanderings’) – not to ‘navem fragilitatis nostrae, ne fluctibus Germanicarum tempestatum submergatur’48 (‘sink our fragile craft in the waves of the Germanic tempest’). To Nothelm of Canterbury he speaks of the ‘navem mentis meae variis Germanicarum gentium tempestatum f luctibus quassatam’ (‘the boat of my mind jostled by the storms’ waves of sundry Germanic peoples’) which he hopes one day will be led safely to harbor. 49 He is also an exile (exul) avoiding ‘laqueum mortis’ (‘the snare of death’) along his way.50 Such sentiments are expressed by Aldhelm as well, who cautions against ‘shipwrecking’ (naufragare) one’s life by deviating from the ‘recto fidei’51 (‘the straight [path] of faith’). In a later generation Ælfric, too, employs the metaphor when he opines that ‘Se rica 7 se þearfa sind wæigfærende on þisre worulde’ (‘The rich and the needy are [both] wayfarers in this world’). The rich, owning much, are weighed down on the journey by their possessions; yet by sharing their ‘burden’ with the poor through charity, they make the trip home easier for everyone.52 Elsewhere, citing Augustine as his source, Ælfric encourages his audience to ‘behealdað ðas woruld swa swa sæ’ (‘consider this world as the sea’), and uses without comment terms such as ‘siðian’ and ‘faran’ to describe the act of dying.53 This construction is likewise very common in the Vercelli Homilies, where heaven is a kingdom (rice), to which the faithful are led (gelæden), hasten (onetan), and arrive (becuman).54 Homily XIV, especially, asks that ‘we moton gefeonde faran mid urum dryhtne 7 mid his englum 7 mid eallum Godes halgum’55 (‘we might travel, rejoicing, with our Lord and his angels and all God’s saints’). 47 Boniface, Die Briefe des heiligen Bonifatius und Lullus, p. 214 (briefe 94). 48 Boniface, Die Briefe des heiligen Bonifatius und Lullus, p. 63 (briefe 38). See also p. 54 (briefe 30). 49 Boniface, Die Briefe des heiligen Bonifatius und Lullus, p. 57 (briefe 33). 50 Boniface, Die Briefe des heiligen Bonifatius und Lullus, p. 54 (briefe 30). 51 Aldhelm, De virginitate, p. 305. See also p. 238. 52 Ælfric, In letania maiore, Ælfric’s Catholic Homilies (first series), p. 323. 53 Ælfric, Ælfric’s Lives of the Saints, I, pp. 318, 420 and 421, and II, p. 396; and Ælfric, In festiuitate sancti Petri apostoli, Ælfric’s Catholic Homilies (second series), pp. 221-229. Quote on p. 227. 54 The Vercelli Homilies and Related Texts, XVI.177, XVII.151, XIX.171, XX.199. 55 The Vercelli Homilies, XIV.176-178.

Lessons of Conduct in Anglo -Sa xon England


The Old English Physiologus and the Problem of Conduct In all of these works, the idea of conduct is expressed simply, with little elaboration: if one does well, one thrives; if not, then one does not. What these depictions do not examine, however, is how ‘doing well’ is to be determined. In the immrama and the works of Cynewulf, moral decisions are depicted starkly, with little nuance. The Irish sailors are supposed to obey God and their abbots and avoid such straightforwardly sinful acts as theft, murder, paganism, or destroying churches. Likewise, Cynewulf’s exhortations would be uncontroversial in Anglo-Saxon England, and one should expect the antagonist in a hagiography to meet a bad end. In reality, however, simply not sinning, or leading a truly good life, is often not so clear-cut. This, as we will ultimately see, is what makes outlaws so useful as vehicles of moral instruction – they have the potential to perform acts that are deeply moral and the ability to disregard convention, providing object lessons about appearance versus substance. Yet, on a basic level, how does one accurately gauge moral conduct, particularly if appearances can be deceiving? Cynewulf and the immrama may not address this question, but other works in the Anglo-Saxon corpus do. A deeper examination of the challenge of conduct can be found in the three poems in the Exeter Book that together form what is known as the Old English Physiologus.56 All three are ultimately derived from the Latin Physio­ logus, a handbook of animal behavior that connects the actions of God’s creatures to lessons for Christian living.57 The concept is straightforward, but deceptively so. The second poem in the series, The Whale, illustrates the dilemma well. Taken on its own, the piece makes a clear argument that Christians must be vigilant lest the deceits of the Devil fool them into doing wrong. It conveys this moral through a metaphor of conduct, in which the Devil’s snares are symbolized by the whale’s tricks for obtaining its prey. Its first ploy is to fool sailors into thinking it is an island. Waiting until they have landed, it then submerges, bringing the men to a watery grave. Its second trick is directed more towards the sea life that makes up its usual diet. To trap them, it emits a pleasant odor: ‘ðonne se mereweard muð ontyneð,/ wide weleras cymeð wynsum stenc’58 (‘then the sea guardian 56 This portion is adapted in part from DeAngelo, ‘Discretio spirituum and The Whale’, pp. 271-289. 57 The early work connecting The Whale and the two pieces which accompany it to the Physiologus includes Ebert, ‘Der angelsächsiche Physiologus’, pp. 241-247; and Peebles, ‘The Anglo-Saxon “Physiologus”’, pp. 571-572. 58 The Whale, ASPR 3, lines 53-4.



opens its mouth, its lips wide; a delightful smell comes forth’). Attracted by the scent, fish swim blissfully to their doom. The lesson of The Whale appears manifest – that sin can often seem appealing, but one must not let the attractiveness of bad conduct lead one into destruction. But when placed in the context of the two Physiologus poems which surround it, the seeming meaning of The Whale is muddied considerably. Both The Panther, the first poem, and The Partridge, the last, present challenges to one attempting to determine the lesson of The Whale. In The Panther, the behavior of the animal and its attendant interpretation appear to directly contradict that in The Whale. After the panther eats it sleeps for three days. Upon awakening, it emits ‘woþa wynsumast þurh þæs wildres muð’59 (‘the most delightful of noises out of the mouth of the wild one’) and Æfter þære stefne of þam wongstede, swettra ond swiþra wyrta blostmum eallum æþelicra

stenc ut cymeð wynsumra steam, swæcca gehwylcum, ond wudubledum, eorþan frætwum.60

A smell emanates out from the countryside after the sound, a vapor more pleasant, sweeter and stronger than any odor, any flower’s bloom or forest blossom, more magnificent than all the treasures of the earth.

Just like the whale, the panther produces a sweet fragrance to draw other animals towards it. Both abilities, moreover, are described in very similar terms. Each creature possesses a stenc which cymeð out of its body by way of the muð. Both scents are also characterized as wynsum (‘delightful’ or ‘pleasant’), creating an equivalency, in sensory terms at least, between both odors. Moreover, each smell has the same effect upon the beings who sense it. For the panther, Þonne of ceastrum ond of burgsalum farað foldwegum eoredcystum, dareðlacende; æfter þære stefne 59 The Panther, ASPR 3, line 43. 60 The Panther, lines 44-8. 61 The Panther, lines 49-54.

ond cynestolum beornþreat monig folca þryþum, ofestum gefysde, deor efne swa some on þone stenc farað.61

Lessons of Conduct in Anglo -Sa xon England


Then from garrisons and government cities and from the halls of power many troops of men tread the earthen path with a multitude of people, the greatest of groups, spear-bearing fighters driven with haste; just like these others, animals move towards the smell after the voice.

With the whale, … oþre þurh þone, sæfisca cynn, swimmað sundhwæte ut gewiteð.62

beswicen weorðaþ, þær se sweta stenc

by way of that [smell], others of the seafish kind become drawn to it, swim expertly to where the sweet scent flows out.

In both cases, the odor of this fragrance is so pleasurable that it draws the surrounding creatures towards it. Yet The Panther complicates a reading of The Whale in that it grants an entirely different signification to its subject’s scent. In The Panther, the animal’s æþele stenc (‘noble fragrance’) symbolizes the glory of God.63 This is not the case in The Whale, where the fish swimming towards the whale die: unware weorude, gefylled bið; ymbe þa herehuþe grimme goman.64

Hi þær in farað oþþæt se wida ceafl þonne færinga hlemmeð togædre

They travel into there, an unwary throng, until its wide maw is filled; then it closes its grim gullet quickly around its plunder.

Their fate is then tied to those who succumb to temptation and are then damned, transforming the maw of the whale into a type of hellmouth, receiving lost souls led astray by the Devil.65 This lesson is applied as well to the sailors who are likewise fooled by the whale’s similarity to an island. In this case it 62 63 64 65

The Whale, lines 55b-8a. The Panther, lines 64b-74. The Whale, lines 58b-62a. The Whale, lines 62b-81.



brings its victims to deaðsele, ‘death’s hall’, and its actions here are also likened to the Devil’s machinations.66 The discrepancy is not likely to be accidental. When one compares The Panther and The Whale to their likely source, the Latin prose Physiologus preserved in Burgerbibliothek Bern, MS Lat. 233,67 it appears that the poet of the two pieces edited the material to focus on the significations of scent in both. Other details given allegorical importance are taken away, narrowing the focus to the one quality which the panther and whale share – their scent.68 Yet, as can be seen, while these creatures’ behavior and features are virtually indistinguishable, they carry opposing lessons. The challenge of the poem that follows The Whale, The Partridge, is of an entirely different order. As the final poem in the sequence of three Physiologus poems, it is here where clarification or conclusion would perhaps be expected, a final animal allegory that puts the conflicting two pieces into a proper context. Unfortunately, the text of The Partridge is incomplete. Between 97v and 98r of the extant manuscript, at least one folio has been lost; given the number of pages in the gatherings and operating under the assumption that the three poems would all be of similar lengths, there is almost certainly only one missing.69 As a result, only sixteen lines (two fragmented) of the poem remain, the first two of its opening and fourteen in its summation – it is even uncertain whether the bird intimated at the outset of the poem (‘bi sumum fugle’70) is in fact the partridge.71 In its diminished state, The Partridge provides scant help to shed light on the dilemma posed by the previous two poems. Any conclusions that can be drawn concerning The Panther and The Whale must be based upon these two pieces themselves. Scholars have attempted to explain the discrepancy between the two creatures,72 but they are thwarted by the allegorical sparseness of the works. 66 The Whale, lines 27-47a. 67 For the text, see Physiologus latinus, pp. 40-46. 68 Campbell, ‘Thematic Unity in the Old English Physiologus’, p. 74. 69 Krapp and Dobbie, Introduction to The Exeter Book, ASPR 3, p. xii; and Conner, Anglo-Saxon Exeter, p. 104. 70 The Partridge, Exeter Book, ASPR 3, line 1b. 71 For the course of this debate, see Ebert, ‘Der angelsächsiche Physiologus’, pp. 241-247; Wülcker, Grundriss zur Geschichte der angelsächsiche Litteratur, pp. 202-204; Sokoll, Zum angelsächsichen Physiologus, pp. 4-10; Mann, Review of Zum angelsächsischen Physiologus by Eduard Sokoll, pp. 332-336; Peebles, ‘The Anglo-Saxon “Physiologus”’, pp. 571-579; and Cordasco, ‘The Old English Physiologus: its Problems’, pp. 351-355. Conner, working later, also does not believe that the later lines of The Partridge belong to the ones before the interruption, but for entirely different reasons than earlier scholars. Anglo-Saxon Exeter, pp. 110-147. 72 Campbell, ‘Thematic Unity in the Old English Physiologus’, pp. 76-77; and Hoek, ‘Anglo-Saxon Innovation and Use of the Senses’, pp. 7-9.

Lessons of Conduct in Anglo -Sa xon England


Any differences that may be found between them are given no weight by the poems themselves. For example, unlike the whale, the panther emits a cry along with an odor.73 Yet the interpretation of the panther’s actions avoids expounding upon its voice – twice it equates the glory of God’s Creation to the smell and nothing else.74 And at face value, the sensory distinction is useless – after all, God’s glories may be silent, while temptation can be aural. Indeed, the identification of sweet smell with evil is out-of-step with most Anglo-Saxon literature, where it normally denotes great sanctity.75 The poem makes clear that this discrepancy is the point. It informs its audience that it is ‘deofla wise, þæt hi drohtende/ þurh dyrne meaht duguðe beswicað/ ond on teosu tyhtaþ tilra dæda’76 (‘the habit of devils, who divert the virtuous through such conduct by concealed power and draw them away from the salvation of better deeds [and] into error’). One of their tools for doing so, it specifies later, is ‘þurh swetne stenc’77 (‘by means of a sweet odor’). As Ann Squires says of the smell in both passages, Within the complete poems there seems a deliberate attempt to create parallel structures which serve to highlight the similarities and differences that relate directly to the theme of human choice and perception, the need to distinguish true from false.78

If this is the case, however, then what is to be made of the ‘deliberate attempt’ not to differentiate the panther from the whale, which makes it all the more difficult to identify the differences to which she alludes? The Whale, in its context beside The Panther, is purposely asking a more specific and troubling question, one with great implications to the principles of conduct: how is a 73 The Panther, line 44; and Hoek, ‘Anglo-Saxon Innovation and Use of the Senses’, pp. 8-9. 74 The Panther, lines 64b and 74b. 75 McFadden, ‘Sweet Odors and Interpretive Authority in the Exeter Book Physiologus and Phoenix’, p. 187. Such is the case elsewhere in the Exeter Book, where Guthlac’s hermitage gives off a sanctified odor after his death (Guthlac B, lines 1317-1325a). The Phoenix, too, frequently mentions a stenc that is æþela and halga, among other positive descriptors (The Phoenix, ASPR 3, lines 8b, 82b, 206b, 586b and 659b). Sweet smell also denotes sanctity in Ælfric’s homily Dominica in Sexagesima, Ælfric’s Catholic Homilies, the Second Series, p. 59; and Vercelli Homilies VIII and IX, pp. 147-148 and 178. 76 The Whale, lines 32-4. This is a diff icult passage, discussed at length by Squires in her edition of the poem. She notes that a more accurate translation of drohtende would be not simply ‘existing’ but ‘existing in a particular way’, and it is for this reason that I use ‘conduct’ here to gloss it, and take ‘duguðe’ as the object of the clause. The Old English Physiologus (Durham: Durham Medieval Texts, 1988), pp. 82-83n. 77 The Whale, line 65b. 78 Squires, Introduction to The Old English Physiologus, p. 25.



Christian, in everyday experience, meant to utilize the allegorical lessons of the poems and discern between holy attractions and their evil imitators when it is beyond human ability to do so? How can a person attempting to conduct oneself through this life know that he or she is being urged along by God rather than being lured down a false path by temptation?

Discretio Spirituum Fortunately, the poems themselves point the way to a coherent interpretation of the two works, and they do so with the rhetoric of conduct. In both The Panther and The Whale, after all, the beings subject to the alluring odors of the beasts exhibit varying degrees of movement and stasis, and the subsequent alterations in these states have long been taken to carry some meaning. The Whale, particularly, offers ample opportunity for interpretation, given the centrality of motion to the events of the poem. In the terminology of the Christian Church, the dilemma presented by the poems is the problem of discretio spirituum, ‘the Discernment of Spirits’. Named in Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, it is one of the many gifts, or charismata, that the apostle identifies as coming from the Holy Spirit.79 One of the first Christian theological concepts to be developed, discretio spirituum addresses the very need present in the Physiologus poems, the ability to correctly assess the moral value of one’s urges. This is, quite literally, the origin of the devil-on-one-shoulder/angel-on-the-other motif, which made its first appearance in the apocryphal Shepherd of Hermas.80 These early mentions are relatively fleeting, but the concept received an extended exposition in Athanasius’ Vita of St. Antony, wherein the desert hermit teaches his monks how to overcome temptation by delineating between good and evil impulses.81 Antony’s ideas were passed on to the Latin West through Evagrius’ translation of Athanasius’ work, as well as through John Cassian’s Collationes, introduced in Chapter 2, a compendium of the wisdom of the Desert Fathers. Cassian’s treatise gives pride of place to an explanation

79 1 Cor. 12.4-11, with discretio spirituum appearing at 12.10. The concept has also been tied to 3 Kings 3.9 and Heb 5.14. For historical accounts of the development of the idea in the first few centuries of Christianity, see Lienhard, ‘“Discernment of Spirits” in the Early Church’, pp. 519-522; and Scholl, ‘The Mother of Virtues’, pp. 389-393. 80 The Shepherd of Hermas, pp. 262-267. For another early mention, see Origen, In Exodum homilia III, pp. 310-311. 81 Athanasius, Vita di Antonio, pp. 40-94.

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of discretio and its proper practice,82 and both it and Antony’s Vita served as stepping stones between the initial conception of discretio spirituum and its further development in such influential Western writings as Gregory’s Moralia in Iob and Regula pastoralis, and Benedict’s Regula.83 These early works depict the challenge posed in proper discretio in terms that parallel the circumstances of The Whale. Cassian, in agreement with the Physiologus-poet, warns his audience that ‘diabolus decipit cum fuerit colore sanctitatis obtectus’84 (‘the Devil beguiles by adopting an obscuring veneer of sanctity’). Gregory, in his own consideration of proper discretio, uses the ability to discriminate among sweet scents as a metaphor for avoiding immoderate behavior. Expounding upon Leviticus 21.18, wherein a deformed nose – one too small or too large – precludes a man from offering sacrifice, Gregory writes in his Regula pastoralis, ‘Parvo […] naso est, qui ad tenendam mensuram discretionis idoneus non est. Naso quippe odores fetoresque discernimus’85 (‘he with a small nose is one who is not proficient in discernment to the proper degree. For it is by the nose that we distinguish fragrances from stenches’). This portion is repeated in King Alfred’s translation, where the connection between a discriminating palate and discretio is made more apparent, perhaps due to the unfamiliarity of the foreign concept:86 Đonne is sio lytle nosu ðæt mon ne sie gesceadwis; forðæm mid ðære nose we tosceadeð ða steanceas, forðæm is sio nosu gereaht to sceadwisnesse. 82 The majority of the first two conferences concern discernment, but some scholars have seen the whole of the work as a treatise on discretio. See Cassian, Collationes, pp. 6-65; and Scholl, ‘The Mother of Virtues’, p. 392. 83 Raabe, ‘Discernment of Spirits in the Prologue to the Rule of Benedict’, pp. 397-423; and Scholl, ‘The Mother of Virtues’, pp. 393-396. All of the patristic works mentioned are known to have been present in Anglo-Saxon England, as seen in Gneuss, Handlist of Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts, pp.153, 156, 159 and 166. See also Lake, ‘Knowledge of the Writings of John Cassian in Early Anglo-Saxon England’, pp. 27-41; and Lapidge, The Anglo-Saxon Library, pp. 281, 292-3, 295 and 305-7. 84 Cassian, Collationes, p. 32. 85 Gregory, Regulae pastoralis, p. 24. 86 An additional attempt to transfer the Latin concept into an Anglo-Saxon context can be found in the Old English gloss of the Liber Scintillarum, where ‘Bonorum discretio est non odisse personas sed culpas et recta pro falsis non spernere sed probare’ is rendered ‘goddra todal ys na hatian hadas ac gyltas & rihte for leasum na forhogian ac afandian’ (‘Discernment of the good is to not hate people but rather sins, and not to reject what is right in the face of what is false but rather to determine it’). Defensor’s Liber Scintillarum, p. 17. In the Harley Glosses, discretio is translated as gesceadwislic and its practice as toscead. The Harley Latin-Old English Glossary, pp. 137 and 139.



Đurh ða gesceadwisnesse we tocnawað good & yfel, & geceosað ðæt good, & aweorpað ðæt yfel.87 Therefore, the small nose is one who is not discerning, because it is with the nose that we distinguish smells, and therefore the nose denotes discernment. Through discernment we distinguish good and evil, and choose the good and reject the evil.

To be able to determine the true nature of a scent, therefore – and by extent, the true nature of an impulse – would be expected of a rectitudinous Christian in an Anglo-Saxon context, a consideration which applies to an interpretation of The Whale. Both versions of the Regula pastoralis go on to identify the oversized nose as a mark of discretio carried to the unacceptable extreme of making the perfect the enemy of the good.88 This moment is but one of many exhortations in the sources to moderation, a particular concern of the Desert Fathers,89 which is consistently touted as the key to proper discretio. Unlike Gregory’s discussion of the nose, however, the appeal to moderation is more often expressed in the language of conduct. It is ‘rationem discretionis adipisci’90 (‘to understand the meaning of discretio’) that Cassian evokes the image of the via regia from Numbers 21.22.91 The image presented is that of a journey which must be continually assessed to avoid disaster, since one cannot trust their instincts unless they discern well. The construction is, in its essence, the principle of conduct. Antony, too, expounds the same lesson in his vita. One who does not adhere to the correct path ‘declinaverit […] et eversa fuerit a proprietate’ (‘has deviated and has been diverted towards perversion’). He also warns of demons who ‘satagunt iuxta semitam ponere scandalum’ (‘busy themselves in placing temptation along the path [of Christians]’).92 The whale is one such snare on the journey, as both the sailors and the fish characterize a failure of discretio through their carelessness in traveling. In accordance with the warnings of Cassian and Antony, they are not seeking evil, but they are easily diverted from their original paths. The fish and the souls they represent who are drawn into the mouth of the whale are unwære and unwærlice (‘unwary’) respectively, while the sailors, for their 87 King Alfred’s West-Saxon Version of Gregory’s Pastoral Care, p. 64. 88 Gregory, Regula pastoralis, p. 24; and King Alfred’s West-Saxon Version, pp. 64 and 66. 89 Caner, Wandering, Begging Monks, pp. 26-27. 90 Cassian, Collationes, p. 41. 91 See pp. 82-48. 92 Athanasius, Vita di Antonio, pp. 48 and 52.

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part, are unwille (‘unintentional’) and collenferþe (‘lacking reservation’) in their actions.93 It is only after they have been led astray by the whale’s blandishments that their intentions are perverted so that they perform on willan (‘willingly’): deofla wise, þurh dyrne meaht ond on teosu tyhtaþ wemað on willan, frofre to feondum, æt þam wærlogan

Swa bið scinna þeaw, þæt hi drohtende duguðe beswicað, tilra dæda, þæt hy wraþe secen, oþþæt hy fæste ðær wic geceosað.94

Such is the practice of demons, the habit of devils, who divert the masses through such conduct and draw them into peril through concealed power, lead them willingly to the ruin of good deeds so that they seek aid [and] joy from fiends, until they choose a place there firmly beside the Oath-Breaker.

Typical for metaphors of conduct as seen in the immrama, allegory derives from the exotic specif icity of the poem a universal lesson on living an exemplary ordinary life. The point is repeated further on in the poem. After it is described how the f ish are seduced and destroyed by the allurements of the whale’s scent, their plight is applied to that of the whole of humanity: se þe oftost his on þas lænen tid læteð hine beswican leasne willan, wið wuldorcyning.95

Swa bið gumena gehwam, unwærlice lif bisceawað, þurh swetne stenc, þæt he biþ leahtrum fah

93 The Whale, lines 4a, 17a, 59a and 63b. The other meaning of unwill, ‘unwilling’, cannot work here because the sailors are not forced to encounter the whale. As for collenferþe, it is often translated as ‘bold’, though its more literal translation (‘swollen-minded’) is perhaps less positive. In any case, given the context of the poem, this may be a case of audacity shading into recklessness. Joseph Bosworth, ‘collenferhþ’, An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, p. 165. 94 The Whale, lines 32-37. 95 The Whale, lines 62b-67a.



So it is with every man who most often carelessly considers his life in this transitory time, abandons it due to a lack of will, seduced by the attractive scent, so that he may become an enemy in sin against the king of glories.

A few lines later the doomed are also described as ‘þa þe him on cleofiað,/ gyltum gehrodene, ond ær georne his/ in hira lifdagum larum hyrdon’96 (‘those who cling to him, covered in [their] crimes, and eagerly heeded his suasions earlier in the days of their lives’). In this way do those lacking discretio fall into the Devil’s clutches, not through any intention of the will but through the incautious blundering that comes from its absence (leas willan). It is just as how an unwary traveler falls into a trap unintentionally. In The Whale, the metaphor of conduct initiated in the earlier treatises on discretio is elaborated to emphasize the need for vigilance. Both the sailors and the fish are faraðlacende (‘ocean-going’), and the fish are sundhwæt (‘expert swimmers’), designations which call attention not only to their motion but to their suitability to their environment.97 The whale is not catching them at a natural disadvantage; indeed, the problem once again is lack of care. Equating its practice with the modern nautical terms ‘to plumb’ or ‘to fathom’, Kees Waaijman characterizes discretio spirituum as the ability ‘to look through the surface and see the actual state of affairs below’, and it is this quality that the sailors in the poem quite literally lack.98 Yet experienced seafarers with a set route and destination would likely not run into an unknown island, nor would they need to stop if they had made the necessary preparations for their journeys. The poem moreover asserts that sailors know of the whale, and they know its name,99 so a crew armed with the knowledge it needs should not fall prey to its wiles. Yet the one in the poem, like the fish, fails to exercise adequate caution and suffers as a result. This failure is accompanied by a change in the quality of the travelers’ motion as well, as what was once willed loses all agency. The sailors, like the fish and the souls they represent, were initially able to fare widely across the world. Only after they settle on the whale’s back – that is, once they accept the ruse – is it that the whale bifæsteð100 (‘holds fast’) to them. Similarly, the fish are able to hweorfan (‘swerve’) when under their own wills, and the damned souls, too, were once free-ranging. Both later find themselves 96 The Whale, lines 73b-75. 97 The Whale, lines 5b, 20a, 57a and 80b. 98 Waaijman, ‘Discernment: Its History and Meaning’, p. 20. 99 The Whale, lines 6b-7. 100 The Whale, line 30b.

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where ‘nagon hwyrft ne swice,/ utsiþ æfre’ (‘there may be no return nor escape, no departure ever’) due to their heedlessness. Freedom of motion, just as with freedom of will, must be accompanied by a caution fostered by discretio spirituum. Without it, those seeking to destroy the mover (or the believer) will revoke that freedom.

Pride and Hazardous Conduct As one of the charismata, discretio spirituum is an ability granted only to certain individuals, one of many blessings the Holy Spirit bestows upon various members of the Christian community.101 As such, it does not come naturally to most, just as those with discretio are without any number of other useful skills. The expectation, then, is that the practice of discretio involves reliance on others to hone one’s own ability, to conf irm one’s interpretations, or to consult the greater experience of elders. On this Cassian was especially insistent. He identifies ‘seniorum verbis ac monitione’ (‘the words and cautions of elders’) as the source of the power of discretio, and elsewhere expounds upon the centrality of counsel to the practice of proper discretio.102 He asserts Vera […] discretio non nisi uera humilitate conquiritur. Cuius humilitatis haec erit prima probatio, si uniuersa non solum quae agenda sunt, sed etiam quae cogitantur, seniorum reseruentur examini, ut nihil suo quis iudicio credens illorum per omnia def initionibus acquiescat et quid bonum uel malum debeat iudicare eorum traditione cognoscat. Quae institutio non solum per ueram discretionis uiam iuuenem recto tramite docebit incedere, uerum etiam a cunctis fraudibus et insidiis inimici seruabit inlaesum. Nullatenus enim decipi poterit, quisque non suo iudicio, sed maiorum uiuit exemplo, nec ualebit ignorationi eius callidus hostis inludere, qui uniuersas cogitationes in corde nascentes perniciosa uerecundia nescit obtegere, sed eas maturo examine seniorum uel reprobat uel admittit.103 True discernment is not accumulated without true humility. This will be the first indication of humility, if not only all that is done but also 101 1 Cor. 12.4-11; and Bouchet, ‘The Discernment of Spirits’, p. 104. 102 Cassian, Collationes, pp. 32-33 and 43-46. 103 Cassian, Collationes, p. 48.



what is thought is saved for examination by the elders, so that, trusting nothing to one’s own judgment, one acquiesces to them in all matters, so one shall know to judge what is both good and bad according to their tradition. This arrangement will teach a young man not only to proceed along the straight path by the true way of discernment, but also keep him unharmed from all errors and the snares of the enemy. For he will not be able to entrap any one by any means if one lives by the example of one’s betters and not by one’s own judgment. Nor will the sly adversary succeed in his deceit because of the ignorance of one who does not know how to conceal all the nascent thoughts in one’s heart out of a pernicious shame but either spurns them or allows them according to the mature consideration of the elders.

Cassian cites as an example of poor discretio the hermit Heron, who despite his years of prayer and abstinence was tricked one day into throwing himself down a well by a demon in angel’s guise. Cassian says he was led into mortal error because ‘suis definitionibus regi quam consiliis uel conlationibus fratrum atque institutis maiorum maluit obedire’104 (‘he preferred to be guided by his own standards than to follow the advice or consultation of the brothers, or the precepts of his predecessors’). As Cassian himself warned, and like those led astray in The Whale, Heron is depicted as losing his agency at the moment of deception. ‘Praeceptis prono obediens famulatu’105 (‘In stooped, obedient slavery to [Satan’s] commands’), he quite literally falls into a trap. Anglo-Saxon writers reveal their conceptual debt to Cassian in their use of the term unlæd to describe the wretched. Reserved primarily for unchristian characters, this term’s semantic meaning is akin to ‘miserable’. However, the elements of the word suggest a literal meaning of being ‘unled’, similar to the pejorative significance of Æthered II unræd, the king who lacked counsel (ræd). Bosworth and Toller note this potential definition, though R.J. Reddick rejects it, stating that some among the unlæd within the Anglo-Saxon corpus, such as the Mermedonians in Andreas, are not leaderless.106 Yet their leader is Satan, and as with Heron poor leadership – and a failure to determine it for oneself – results in poor conduct. And the movement of those who are unlæd is bad. In Solomon and Saturn they are described thus: 104 Cassian, Collationes, pp. 44. 105 Cassian, Collationes, pp. 45. 106 ‘unlæd’, An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, p. 1119; and Reddick, ‘Old English Unlæd’, pp. 2-3.

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Unlæd bið on eorþan, wesðe wisdomes, feldegongende se þurh ðone cantic ne can


unnit lifes, weallað swa nieten, feoh butan gewitte, Crist geherian.107

The miserable one is unprofitable in his life on earth. Bereft of wisdom, he roams like the animals, cattle without wits, who do not know how to praise Christ through song.

The efforts of the unlæd result in unproductive travel, no more evident of purposeful, thought-out action than the wanderings of brute animals. When conducting oneself, it is not enough simply to act, but to act well, and acting well is dependent upon following the proper authority. As the piece makes clear, that authority is Christ, whose will may be determined through discretio spirituum. Cassian’s principles serve as well as a natural complement to the ­immrama, which as we have seen are particularly concerned with conveying a lesson of obedience to God and his earthly representatives. The Navigatio sancti Brendani, the only full immram written in Latin and one with a wide audience outside of Ireland,108 is a very good example in this regard. The fates of the three latecoming monks and their significance have already been discussed in Chapter 2, along with the similarity of their story with that of Jonah.109 Yet it should be noted how the brothers’ fates comport with Cassian’s treatment of the via regia, and how, in the case of the one consigned to the volcano’s pit, his doom is accompanied and enabled by a subsequent loss of agency, as with Heron and the victims of The Whale.110 Yet more should be said concerning the Navigatio where it relies upon the Physiologus description of the whale in its narrative. Here, Brendan’s monks, 107 Solomon and Saturn, ASPR 6, lines 21-24. 108 There is no textual evidence for the presence of the Navigatio in Anglo-Saxon England, or, indeed, Ireland, at the time of its first writing, as its earliest manuscripts are of Continental provenance, clustered about the Rhineland. Nevertheless, the text reveals a thorough knowledge of Irish geography and culture, and represents a culmination of a long and complicated tradition of the story of Brendan that definitively ties it to Ireland. Given the strong Irish presence in the area at the time of this development, familiarity with Brendan’s voyage in Anglo-Saxon England is generally assumed. For background see Zimmer, ‘Keltische Beiträge II’, pp. 129-220 and 257-338; Plummer, ‘Some New Light on the Brendan Legend’, pp. 1-14; Selmer, Introduction to Navigatio sancti Brendani, pp. xv-l; Carney, Review of Navigatio sancti Brendani, pp. 42-51; and The Voyage of Máel Dúin, pp. 20-38. 109 See pp. 99-102. 110 Navigatio sancti Brendani, p. 67.



like the sailors in The Whale and the Bern Physiologus, come across a creature they assume is an island. It is, in fact, the giant fish Jasconius. Oblivious to the danger, they clamber out of the boat and busy themselves in setting up camp. Brendan, however, remains onboard, ‘sciebat enim qualis erat illa insula, sed tamen noluit eis indicare, ne perterrentur’ (‘for he knew what kind of island it was, but did not wish to say so as not to frighten them’). When the creature dives he is then in position to save his companions, and only then does he share that God revealed to him the island’s true identity in a dream.111 If the episode of the sailors in The Whale, then, emphasizes the difficulties in human perception that make discretio essential, the same motif in the Navigatio focuses on another aspect of the concept – the need for reliance upon established authorities to identify illusions and mitigate their damage. The same lesson applies to the immram episode in the Vita of St. Columba, when a traveling monk disobeys his abbot’s directive and encounters a whale as a result.112 Whales and other sea creatures, therefore, were a common hazard for wayward travelers in the fiction of the early North Atlantic.113 They appear as symbols of Pride – just as the creature in The Whale is a wæterþisa wlonc, a ‘prideful sea-beast’. Aldhelm too, in his De virginitate, warns his audience of the superbiae balenus (‘whale of Pride’) who must be tamed with the ring of humility.114 The connection of large sea creatures to Pride is consistent in early Christian exegesis, in meditations over such beasts of the Old Testament such as Leviathan and Jonah’s piscis grandis (‘big fish’). In the Book of Job, Leviathan is declared the ‘rex super universos filios superbiae’115 (‘the king over all the children of Pride’). In his commentary on this book, Moralia in Iob, Gregory I attributes to Leviathan the ability to produce a sweet odor, which, as in Physiologus tradition, masks the true vile nature of its works.116

111 Navigatio sancti Brendani, pp. 20-21. 112 Adamnán, Vita sancti Columbae, pp. 31-2. 113 For a more extended look, see DeAngelo, ‘Discretio spirituum and The Whale’, pp. 279-287. 114 Aldhelm, De virginitate, p. 239. 115 Job 41.25. It is also named earlier in Job 3.8. 116 Gregory, Moralia in Iob, III, pp. 1756-1757; and Physiologus latinus, pp. 44-45. Gregory is basing his assertion off of Job 41.10-11 (‘de ore eius lampades procedunt sicut taedae ignis accensae, de naribus eius procedit fumus sicut ollae succensae atque ferventis’, ‘from its mouth issue flames just like torches kindled by fire; from its nostrils comes forth smoke just as from hot, burning pots’) and Job 41.22 (‘fervescere faciet quasi ollam profundum mare ponet quasi cum unguenta bulliunt’, ‘it will cause the deep to boil like a pot, make the sea as when ointments bubble’).

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Another likely influence was the piscis grandis of Jonah. The creature is connected to Leviathan in rabbinical literature,117 a comparison which was carried to Anglo-Saxon England through Jerome’s commentary on the Book of Jonah. While describing the piscis – which he names a cetus, a whale – he alludes to Leviathan in Psalm 103, verse 26: ‘Draco iste quem formasti ad illudendum ei’118 (‘this dragon which you [God] made to cavort [in the sea]’). Given Jonah’s reputation as an imperfect prophet, it was common for North Atlantic churchmen to demonstrate modesty by equating themselves with him. Columbanus is a particularly prominent case. His affinity for Jonah is perhaps natural given the similarity of their names – as columba means ‘dove’ in Latin so does iona denote the bird in Hebrew. The similarity was noted by the Columba’s biographer as well.119 It is Columbanus, however, who 117 In the early medieval Pirqê traditionally ascribed to Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrkanos, Jonah gains the trust of his devourer by saving him from suffering the same fate at the jaws of Leviathan. Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer, pp. 65-73. For dating, see Friedlander, Introduction to Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer, pp. liii-liv; and Whitney, Two Strange Beasts, p. 93. 118 This is the verse as given in Jerome, Commentarii in prophetas minores, p. 393. Jerome equated this draco with Leviathan, changing the verse to name the creature explicitly in his translation of the Psalms from the Hebrew and identifying the draco as such in his Tractatus in librum Psalmos, p. 187. Three different versions of the psalter were in circulation in England at various points in the Anglo-Saxon period; given the uncertainty as to the date of works such as The Whale, all three must be accounted for. The original, derived from the pre-Jerome Vetus Latina translation of the Old Testament, is commonly known as the Psalterium Romanum. Jerome’s initial effort at revising the psalms came to be known as the Psalterium Gallicanum, and while it does not seem to have come into wide use in England until the tenth century, there is evidence of its presence there well before. Moreover, the Gallicanum was the preferred text of the Irish church. Also present was a third translation of the psalter, the Psalterium iuxta Hebraeos or Hebraicum, a second attempt by Jerome that utilized the original Hebrew text of the psalms. Leviathan’s appearance in both Psalm 73 and 103 varies depending on the edition used. In the Romanum and Gallicanum, ‘capita draconum’ (‘the heads of dragons’) are said to be crushed by God in Ps. 73.13-14; in Ps. 103.26 in both texts a draco cavorts in the sea God made. In the Hebraicum, however, the creatures in both cases are specified as Leviathan. Nevertheless, it is likely that the creature of Psalm 103, at least, was commonly accepted as Leviathan no matter which version of the psalter was consulted. Most of the exegeses present in England which use the Gallicanum text, including Jerome’s, identify the draco as Leviathan or else connect it to the description of the beast in Job, suggesting a general understanding of their equivalence in Anglo-Saxon England. See Jerome, Tractatus in librum Psalmos, p. 187; and Cassiodorus, Expositio Psalmorum, II, p. 937. For the distinction between these various translations of the psalter and their prevalence in Anglo-Saxon England, see Gretsch, ‘The Roman Psalter’, pp. 15-8. Both the Gallicanum and Hebraicum texts can be found in the Biblia sacra, while the Romanum is in Le Psautier Romain. 119 Adomnán points out the translation of St. Columba’s name in his second introduction to the saint’s vita as well, though he uses it to compare Columba to a dove rather than to Jonah (Vita Sancta Columbae, pp. 2-3). In contrast, the name of Columba’s monastery, Iona, is not derived from Hebrew. It comes from a misreading of Adomnán’s rendering of its name in the miniscule,



extends the comparison to relate his travails on the Continent, symbolized by a difficult sea journey, to Jonah’s misadventures. In one epistle he hopes, ‘Si in mare proiciar more Ionae, qui et ipse in hebraeo columba dicitur, orate, ut vice ceti sit quidam felici revocans remigio tutus celator, qui Ionam vestrum terrae reddat optate’120 (‘If I am tossed into the sea like Jonah, who himself is called Columba in Hebrew, pray that someone may in place of the whale set [me] back on a happy sea voyage under secure protection, to return to a land for which your Jonah pines’). At other times he compares himself to Jonah to emphasize his sinful nature. Like the prophet, he says, he is ‘torpenti actu ac dicenti potius quam facienti’ (‘slow in acting and speaks rather than does’); elsewhere, in his dispute with the Merovingian bishops over the dating of Easter, he encourages them to repudiate him just as the sailors cast Jonah over the bow, so long as they likewise make sure that he is truly the sinner among them.121 Yet while Columbanus’ and Jonah’s names make them a natural fit, the Irish missionary was not unusual in his invocation of the prophet. He is one of many biblical figures that Muirchú maccu Macthéni equates to Patrick, and Brendan also compares Jonah’s plight to his own.122 One can find Jonah used in an Anglo-Saxon environment as well. His story is recounted for instructional purposes in Vercelli Homily XIX and Ælfric’s In letania maiore.123 The latter closes with an allusion to conduct, in which Ælfric describes all men on Earth as wæigfærende (‘wayfaring’) in this world.124 Figures such as Leviathan, Jonah’s piscis grandis, and Aldhelm’s balenus create a consistent symbolism which in turn informed readers’ responses to The Whale; this interpretation in turn affects the work’s understanding of discretio spirituum. The result is a more specific identification of Pride as the fault in the conduct of those who go astray. It has already been seen how changing Ioua to Iona (though this error may be attributed to Adomnán’s etymology linking columba to iona). Ioua appears to be a native Irish word derived from a common Celtic root meaning ‘yew’. Watson, The History of the Celtic Place-Names of Scotland, p. 87-90. 120 Columbanus, Epistola IV, Sancti Columbani opera, pp. 34-35. 121 Columbanus, Epistola II and Epistola V, Sancti Columbani opera, pp. 18-19 and 54-57. Neil Wright sees Columbanus’ use of the Jonah association as being mediated through Ruf inus’ preface to his translation of the sermons of Gregory of Nazianzus, which also makes use of the story of the prophet. This has the consequent effect of comparing Columbanus not only to Jonah but to Gregory as well. Wright, ‘Columbanus’ Epistulae’, p. 75; and Rufinus, Orationum Gregorii Nazianzeni Novem Interpretatio, pp. 4-5. 122 Muirchú maccu Macthéni, Vita Patricii, pp. 68-69; and Navigatio sancti Brendani, p. 45. 123 The Vercelli Homilies, pp. 315-326; and Ælfric, Ælfric’s Catholic Homilies (f irst series), pp. 317-324. 124 Ælfric, Ælfric’s Catholic Homilies (first series), p. 323.

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Aldhelm’s creature is a superbiae balenus just as the whale is a wæterþisa wlonc, designations which tie them to Leviathan, the rex super universos filios superbiae of Job 41.25. Their association with Pride is exploited in the commentaries.125 Aldhelm, for his part, eventually reveals the superbiae balenum to be Leviathan, who lies in wait to consume those led astray by their arrogance.126 In works concerned with discretio spirituum, allusions to Pride and its symbols are well-represented. In Cassian, those that stray do so on account of their obstinatio and praesumptio – obstinacy and presumption (or stubbornness) – and his cure, humilitate (‘humility’), is the same as Aldhelm’s solution to taming the whale of Pride.127 In his long speech on discretio, Antony reaches for Job’s description of Leviathan with his fragrant breath to characterize the demons against which he and his disciples must remain ever-vigilant.128 And in the Navigatio, the volcano in which the final disobedient monk is damned is identified as Leviathan’s realm.129 In all of these works, Pride or its avatar are present as the cause and consequence of failed discretio. Moreover, it is through the motions of their improper conduct, through their deviation from set paths and subsequent capture, that the victims of such creatures exhibit their capitulation to Pride. Jonah, obviously, is a prime example of one who reveals his disobedience in choosing a journey contrary to God’s wishes, to the extent that he is identified as an archetype for the latecoming traveler motif to which Brendan’s three insubordinate monks are heir.130 As such, he is also one who deviates from Cassian’s via regia. Jerome has this to say about the prophet’s flight: Non igitur propheta ad certum fugere cupiebat locum, sed mare ingrediens, quocumque pergere festinabat, et magis hoc conuenit fugitiuo et timido, non locum fugae otiosae eligere, sed primam occasionem arripere nauigandi.131 125 The dracones in Ps. 73.13-14, which in the Hebraicum translation of the psalter are designated Leviathan, are also associated with Pride in Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos, II, p. 1014; and Cassiodorus, Expositio Psalmorum, II, p. 679. 126 Aldhelm, De virginitate, pp. 239-240. 127 Cassian, Collationes, pp. 41, 45 and 46; for humility, see p. 48; and Aldhelm, De virginitate, pp. 239. 128 Athanasius, Vita di Antonio, p. 54. 129 Navigatio sancti Brendani, p. 67. 130 Carp, ‘The Three Late-Coming Monks’, pp. 129-131. 131 Jerome, Commentarii in prophetas minores, pp. 381-2. This lesson is touched upon briefly in Vercelli Homily XIX, p. 322, when Jonah realizes that ‘he nahwar God forfleon meahte’ (‘nowhere could he flee God’); and in Ælfric’s In letania maiore, Ælfric’s Catholic Homilies (first series), p. 317,



Therefore the prophet was not wishing to flee to any particular place, but taking to the sea like any other person rushing forth. This better suits a fugitive and a coward, to select no destination in his vain flight, but to grab the first that occasions itself in his journey.

In Jerome’s interpretation, Jonah has no plan and no goal but to escape God’s intentions for him, and chooses his own desires – his own path – since the correct one frightens him so. His deviation from God’s set itinerary is what lands him in the jaws of the whale. Gregory, whose Moralia contains both a discussion of discretio and a consideration of Leviathan, draws the connection explicitly. He precedes his characterization of Leviathan as creating pleasant odors to fool the unwary with a reflection on the angustum iter, the ‘narrow way’ or ‘difficult journey’ akin to Cassian’s via regia.132 Those who undertake it inspire others to the same, he argues, but there are those who instead try and make the easier path appear to be the one of righteousness. Of these Gregory says, Quando ergo bene agere uidentur reprobi, quasi planum iter electis sequentibus monstrant; quando uero in lapsum nequitiae corruunt, electis post se pergentibus quasi cauendam superbiae foueam ostendunt. Eat ergo Leuiathan iste.133 Therefore when the false are seen doing good, they present for the accompanying Elect something like a journey upon flat ground; when they fall into the error of sin, truly, they demonstrate for the Elect coming after them a hazard, as it were, for the proud to be avoided. This Leviathan may operate as such.

If in exegetical tradition Leviathan and other sea creatures signify Pride, then that pride is manifested in the willful deviation from difficult journeys deemed necessary by God. Doing so leads an individual into sin, a consequence depicted graphically in the material by transgressors being swallowed by monsters of the deep. By importing this imagery and its

where he ‘wolde forfleon godes gesihðe. ac he ne mihte’ (‘he desired to flee from God’s sight, but he could not’). 132 Gregory, Moralia in Iob, III, p. 1755. This is an allusion to the ‘angusta porta’ (‘narrow gate’) of Matt. 7.13-14, and one that Columbanus uses likewise in Epistula IV, p. 32. 133 Gregory, Moralia in Iob, III, p. 1756. Also III, pp. 1634-1639.

Lessons of Conduct in Anglo -Sa xon England


attendant significance into an Anglo-Saxon poetic form, The Whale serves to carry the lesson of proper conduct to a vernacular audience.

Discerning the Meaning of the Old English Physiologus Movement, therefore, is key to determining the deeper meaning of The Whale, and if one applies this focus to its fellow Physiologus poems, its evocation of discretio spirituum and utilization of metaphors of movement allow the discrepancy between it and The Panther to finally be reconciled. Those who come to see the panther, after all, are in motion themselves, having originated ‘of ceastrum ond cynestolum/ ond of burgsalum’134 (‘from garrisons and government cities and from the halls of power’). There is also some indication that they are meant to be equated with those journeying in The Whale. While both the sailors and the fish are fareðlacende, the men of the The Panther are dareðlacende,135 ‘spear-wielding’. Despite their different meanings, the final elements in each of these words derive from the verb lacan, and this, along with the rhyme, encourages one to see those they describe in the same terms. Yet there is no indication that the travelers of The Panther are unwærlice or unwille like the prey of the whale. As such, they are more careful in conducting themselves and practicing proper discretio. It may be here that the call of the panther that accompanies its scent comes into play. The beast’s cry is, quite literally, ‘vox clamantis in deserto’,136 and as such represents more directly than any odor the Word of God. In the case of the men and animals attracted to the panther, their senses working in concert allow them to correctly discern the wholesome appeal of the creature’s cry in conjunction with its scent. It is in The Panther, after all, that ‘æfter þære stefne on þone stenc farað’137 (‘they move towards the smell after the voice’), meaning that it is the sound that inspires them to follow the scent, rather than the scent itself. The impetus for the action of seeking the smell is therefore the guiding authority (in this case, God’s Word, as symbolized by the panther’s call) which the travelers in The Whale lack. It is the relation of the movement depicted in The Panther and The Whale to discretio spirituum which ultimately delineates the difference between 134 The Panther, lines 49-50a. 135 The Panther, line 53a. 136 ‘a voice crying out in the wilderness’. Is. 40.3, Mark 1.3 and John 1.23. 137 The Panther, line 54. I am reading ‘æfter’ to mean ‘in pursuit of’, though a temporal sense works here as well – i.e., ‘after hearing the voice, they move towards the smell’.



their respective scents and significations, and lays out the lessons pertinent to their audiences: avoid Pride, obey God and his earthly representatives, and do not act without his guidance. It is essentially the same lesson conveyed by the Irish immrama, yet with a greater focus on Pride and a more apparent patristic pedigree. The same principles of conduct may have applied to the whole of the Old English Physiologus, since what remains of The Partridge references motion as well. While the majority of the piece is lost, what was likely its general content can be determined from the Bern manuscript. In it, the partridge typifies the Devil, in that it steals the eggs of other birds just as Satan steals men’s souls. Yet when the newly-hatched chicks hear the cries of their parents they fly away to them, and so should men likewise be able to discern the true vox Christi.138 In this account, men, like those in The Panther but unlike those in The Whale, are inspired to move towards Christ through their sense of hearing, and the individuals which represent them once again physically move. Whether the Anglo-Saxon poem connected this movement more closely to the principles of conduct or discretio spirituum must remain unknown. However, in the final lines that do survive, there is consistent reference to motion, as verbs which denote physical movement are used to characterize mental exercises. The poem exhorts men, in the voice of God, In swa hwylce tiid on hyge hweorfað, sweartra geswicað, mid sublufan þurh milde mod.139

swa ge mid treowe to me ond ge hellfirena swa ic symle to eow sona gecyrre

At whatever time you turn towards me with good faith in mind, and you leave the dark crimes of Hell behind, so will I immediately and forever turn towards you in familial love and with a merciful mind.

God reciprocates motion towards him with a commensurate action. The verbs used also complement those used in the commentary on the whale’s sweet scent. Just as the fish represent souls which læteð hine beswincan (‘allowed themselves to be diverted’) by the Devil, God encourages humankind to geswincan (‘turn away’) from sin.140 While the fish sucked 138 Physiologus latinus, pp. 45-46; and Campbell, ‘Thematic Unity in the Old English Physiologus’, p. 77. 139 The Partridge, lines 5-9a. 140 The Whale, line 65a; and The Partridge, line 7a.

Lessons of Conduct in Anglo -Sa xon England


into the whale’s stomach are marked by their inability to hweorfan motan (‘be able to change course’), The Partridge emphasizes that God’s children can hweorfan to him at any time.141 All one has to do is obey the call. With the Devil, and the whale, damnation and death is a trap and one’s agency is revoked; with God one’s journey towards salvation is a choice, but it can only be achieved through proper conduct. As with the previous two poems of the Physiologus, The Partridge speaks of the choice between good and evil with metaphors of movement. In the juxtaposition of their three separate parables of movement – to and from danger, towards and away from God or the Devil – the three poems of the Old English Physiologus put forth a consistent argument for avoiding the pitfalls of Pride through an extended metaphor of conduct that draws upon the definitive patristic tradition of discretio spirituum. Yet its theme only becomes clear if the audience itself is similarly aware of the religious tradition invoked by The Whale. This speaks to the depth of engagement with the concept of conduct that Anglo-Saxons were capable of bringing to their poetry, a potential which subsequently affects the readings of a great number of pieces. The Whale, though possessing two separate scenes, is essentially an allegory, something quite different from the narrative Irish immrama. Yet Anglo-Saxon literature offers many stories of travelers similar to that of the immrama, and their adventures contain their own lessons in conduct for their audiences. It is back to outlaws that we now turn.

141 The Whale, line 81b; and The Partridge, line 6a.


The Transgressive Hero

Holy Wreccan Unlike the other two North Atlantic cultures in this book, there was no def initive ‘outlaw tradition’ among the Anglo-Saxons. Figures such as Beowulf, the Wanderer, or the Seafarer may share some qualities with outlaws, but their overlap is far from complete, and as we have seen in Chapter 1 it would be reductive to claim that wrecca is perfectly translated as outlaw. As a result, the literary dimension of the outlaw in Anglo-Saxon England can be said to be lacking. However, as with the Irish, there is an additional sphere within Anglo-Saxon society where the qualities of the outlaw found expression – in the practice and depiction of Christian asceticism in the North Atlantic. Ailithre was a repurposing of criminal punishment for penance that redefined the categories of illicit and righteous action. The same can be said of the actors. The liminal power accessed by the outlaw was valuable as capital to spiritual leaders as much as it was to secular. Add to this the mandate of Christianity to embrace the despised and reject worldly authority, and an affinity for outlawry appears almost natural to ascetic forms of the faith. The Anglo-Saxon corpus, while lacking secular outlaw heroes, contains many saintly heroes who reflect outlaw tropes in this way. How these two modes of life intertwine and diverge is seen most clearly in the career of Guthlac, hermit of Crowland, who in the course of his life was both an outlaw and an ascetic. In examining the works that feature him one is able to gain a better idea of how holiness and criminality could intersect in the early medieval North Atlantic. Moreover, it is through figures such as Guthlac – their abilities both amplified and sanctioned by God’s favor – that one can see just how transformational an outsider can be due to the liminal power he or she represents. Of course, as we have seen, the application of the influence borne of foreign engagement provoked controversy easily; also seen in the Guthlac tradition is how the principle of conduct once again governs the correct usage of foreign expertise within North Atlantic literature. The connection between exile and Christian devotion has been wellestablished. It has already been noted in Chapter 2 that exile could be understood as an ascetic experience through the practice of ailithre.1 It is important to reiterate this point, however, since it highlights the salutary 1

See pp. 73-79.



aspects of exile and travel as understood by Christian thinkers. Boethius conceived of exile as being possible both away from and in the presence of God,2 and such distinctions can be seen in the usage of wrecca as well. When Christ breaches Satan’s defenses in The Descent into Hell, for example, the patriarchs there are described as wreccan, as they are separated from God in Hell;3 such too is the imprisoned Matheus’ plight in Andreas when he describes himself as eðelleas4 (‘lacking a homeland’). In a similar way exiles in Christ I seek succor from the Lord, and unbelievers in Andreas pursue a wræcsið (‘exile’s journey’).5 Yet in other poems, wreccan are described as Christian sojourners in the Augustinian tradition. Consider Exodus, where the poet, speaking of the things of the world, states that wommum awyrged, earmra anbid. þysne gystsele murnað on mode6

Þis is læne dream, wreccum alyfed, Eðellease gihðum healdað,

This joy permitted to exiles, anticipated by the miserable, is temporary [and] smothered by sins. Those lacking a homeland occupy this waystation restlessly, troubled in mind.

The poem’s gystsele is of a kind with Augustine’s stabulum, a temporary respite from the trials of the world,7 and, as such, indicates the presence in Anglo-Saxon England of the Christian attitudes animating ailithre in Chapter 2. Like the City of God or the individual Christian acting out his or her moral life in the face of adversity, these wreccan are eðellease (‘lacking a homeland’) as long as they persist in this world. So too are the Israelites, according to Exodus.8 Such wreccan cannot be estranged from God. The Wanderer, for example, is clearly an exile and clearly miserable about it. Yet he opens his lament with the grudging admission that ‘Oft him anhaga 2 Boethius, Philosophiae Consolatio, pp. 13-14 (bk. 1, prose 5). 3 The Descent into Hell, ASPR 3, line 42b. Those separated spiritually from God are also described as wreccan in lines 59-68. 4 Andreas, line 74b. 5 Christ I, ASPR 3, lines 261b-264a; and Andreas, line 889a. 6 Exodus, ASPR 1, lines 532b-536a. 7 Augustine, Sermo LXXX, Sermones, p. 497. 8 Exodus, line 139a. This is pointed out by Howe, Writing the Map of Anglo-Saxon England, p. 213.

The Transgressive Hero


are gebideð,/ Metudes miltse, þeah þe he modcearig […] sceolde […] wadan wræclastas’9 (‘Often a man alone has experienced God’s mercy, even though he must, unhappy at heart, take the path of the exile’). Exile in this case means estrangement from the worldly trappings of secular power and pleasure,10 and as such is here crucial to forging a closer relationship with God. This is why, unlike the Wanderer,11 the Seafarer finds himself abroad not because of unfortunate circumstances but because of a calling.12 The speaker in Resignation, too, bewails his condition and desperately misses all he has lost in leaving his native land. Moreover, he perceives that ‘is him wrað meotud’ (‘the Lord is angry with him’). Yet the remedy to his sorrows is not to obtain what he has now lost, but rather to take to the sea.13 Wrecca, therefore, connotes asceticism in certain contexts.14 After all, the four essential qualities of exile that Stanley Greenfield outlined – solitude, privation, mental distress, and movement – are all hallmarks of the ascetic hermit of the ailithre tradition. They are also, as we have seen, components of the outlaw identity.15 In both eremitical asceticism and outlawry, the individual in question is cut off from his or her community and consigned to a region marked as alien and inhospitable. This privation, in turn, is the point of the exercise, as either a punishment in the case of the outlaw or as an impetus to self-discipline in the case of the ascetic. In the case of freely-chosen outlawry, those which were conducted as rites de passage, the similarities are even more acute. Männerbünde such as the fíana appear to have had a religious component that was lost after the coming of Christianity, as did Norse equivalents such as the berserksgangar of Óðin reported by Snorri Sturluson.16 These ancient confederations were demonized by Christian authors. Berserkir were depicted in the sagas as 9 The Wanderer, ASPR 3, lines 1-2, 3b and 5a. The missing portions are simply those that specify that his journeys are upon the sea. 10 The Wanderer enumerates these temptations in the famous ubi sunt portion of his poem, The Wanderer, lines 92-95a. 11 Dyas, Pilgrimage in Medieval English Literature, p. 106. 12 The Seafarer, ASPR 3, lines 39-47. The Seafarer describes himself as being like a wrecca at lines 15b and 57a. 13 Resignation, ASPR 3, lines 82b-104. 14 This is the conclusion of Whitelock, ‘The Interpretation of The Seafarer’, pp. 263-272. 15 Greenf ield, ‘The Formulaic Expression of the Theme of “Exile” in Anglo-Saxon Poetry’, pp. 200-206. See p. 46. 16 McCone, Pagan Past and Christian Present, pp. 219-223; and Snorri Sturluson, Heimskringla, I, p. 17. Danielli, ‘Initiation Ceremonial from Norse Literature’, pp. 229-245. The religious component in Germanic Männerbünde was also the principal interest of Höfler in Kultische Geheimbünde der Germanen, pp. 163-275.



buffoons and braggarts rather than fearsome warriors or fervent devotees. The fíana, for their part, were condemned outright by the early Irish church before being (provisionally) rehabilitated in the later Middle Ages.17 These groups’ engagements with liminality clearly operated along the same lines as the Christian ascetics, and conferred the same benefits. In occupying the same conceptual space, rivalry was perhaps inevitable. This is particularly apparent in Ireland.18 Joseph Nagy, in Conversing with Angels and Ancients, observes that, ‘marginality confers its own special brand of authority in Irish tradition and even suggests a paradoxical intimacy with precisely those centers of authority which hagiography attempts to protect’ from secular or pagan challenge.19 Those challenges come from the figure of the charioteer in some texts, but in others the liminal figure associated with the margins is the fénnid. Nagy has also, of course, extensively expounded on the unique access to esoteric knowledge and supernatural ability that the fían’s liminal existence provided;20 of particular note, however, are those incidences where the characterizations of the fénnid and the Christian ascetic come into alignment. Such is the case with Marbán, the Christian hermit from the tale Tromdámh Guaire in the Book of Lismore. Marbán, Nagy says, ‘occupies the same spatial and functional territory’ as an outlaw. He shuns society for the hardship of the wilderness, and as a result has achieved a deep knowledge and particular expertise that can only come from the circumstances of his exile.21 Related to such figures are the wise, poetic, and antisocial ‘wild men’ of Celtic tradition, of which Suibne is the best-known example. Like the practitioners of ailithre and other Christian ascetics, these individuals derive their abilities from the liminal space they occupy, and are often described as performing their wanderings for the sake of penance. Nora K. Chadwick draws the connection explicitly between these marginal figures and Christian ascetics.22 Yet while the indigenous identification of liminal action as sacred may have been threatening to Christians, it also lent eminence to their own 17 Sharpe, ‘Hiberno-Latin laicus’, pp. 82-87; McCone, ‘Werewolves, Cyclopes, Díberga, and Fíanna’, pp. 3-7; and Ní Mhaonaigh, ‘Pagans and Holy Men’, pp. 143-149. 18 McCone, Pagan Past and Christian Present, pp. 185-199. 19 Nagy, Conversing with Angels and Ancients, p. 293. 20 See Nagy, Wisdom of the Outlaw; and Nagy, Conversing with Angels and Ancients, pp. 287-323. 21 Tromdámh Guaire, pp. 13-32; and Nagy, Conversing with Angels and Ancients, pp. 307-317, quote on p. 308. 22 Chadwick, ‘Geilt’, pp. 149-154. See also Nagy, ‘The Wisdom of the Geilt’, pp. 44-60; Nagy, Introduction, The Adventures of Suibhne Geilt, pp. 1-32; and Eson, Merlin and the Celtic Wild Man as Poet and Prophet, pp. 2-3.

The Transgressive Hero


expressions of the same. Moreover, the borrowing was two-way. The lives of biblical heroes such as Moses and Christ had liminal aspects which were exploited by Christian writers in both the ancient and medieval eras. The writer of Hebrews, for example, exhorts Christians, ‘exeamus igitur ad eum extra castra inproperium eius portantes’23 (‘let us then go to [Jesus] out beyond the camp, bearing his censure’). The specific reference here is in regard to Jewish dietary laws, but it is expressed in the language of exile in which Christ exists beyond the pale, condemned by those within.24 In the cases of outlawry where the outlaw freely chooses his course through a trip abroad or enrollment in a Männerbund, the action taken is virtually indistinguishable from that of the ascetic: both take on a denigrated identity and freely face hardship in order to gain something otherwise unattainable. The only real difference is that while the outlaw was aiming for secular (or previously pagan) gains from his or her travails – experience, knowledge, riches, distinction – the Christian ascetic was looking to obtain these same benefits in the context of his or her religion. For this reason, religious experience can be considered a rite de passage in addition to juvenile outlawry,25 as the ascetic performs a liminal action in his or her efforts to move closer to God by ‘dying to the world’ – an imitation of the ultimate transition. The volatility inherent in such liminal figures in turn casts suspicion upon the wandering ascetic, just as it does upon other strangers. The medieval church had its own form of outlawry in excommunication. In Anglo-Saxon England, the two concepts developed alongside one another and could work in concert, or be conflated with one another.26 As with secular outlawry, the Church was only prepared to embrace the liminal in a narrow set of circumstances; anyone else risked censure. It was already noted in Chapter 2 that the first ascetics in Egypt were encouraged to inhabit hermitages and form communities, to make them sedentary and therefore more stable.27 To the west in Roman Africa, too, Augustine came out against the Donatist 23 Heb. 13.13. Dunning, Aliens and Sojourners, pp. 55-56. For an expression of this aspect of Christ in the early medieval North Atlantic, see Gildas, The Ruin of Britain and Other Works, pp. 80 and 143; and Herren and Brown, Christ in Celtic Christianity, pp. 130-134, for context. 24 Moreover, the concepts of ritual purity and liminality easily intersected. See Douglas, Purity and Danger, pp. 41-57; and Turner, The Forest of Symbols, pp. 97-98. 25 van Gennep, Les Rites de Passage, pp. 263-264; and Turner and Turner, Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture, pp. 2-3. 26 See Treharne, ‘A Unique Old English Formula for Excommunication from Cambridge, Corpus Christi College 303’, pp. 189-199; and Carella, ‘The Earliest Expression for Outlawry in Anglo-Saxon Law’, pp. 111-114. 27 See p. 73. Caner, Wandering, Begging Monks, pp. 19-49.



ascetics who roved through the countryside disrupting both pagan and Christian ceremonies.28 Benedict of Nursia inveighed against wandering gyrovagi and in his Regula enshrined stabilitas as the proper condition for the monk.29 The influence of the Benedictines is credited with the ultimate decline of ailithre in Ireland, and with one of several efforts in Anglo-Saxon England to suppress Irish-style asceticism.30 This state of affairs continued on into the later Middle Ages with the rise of mendicant orders like the Franciscans. Friars were opposed because ‘they are wanderers (vagos) through the world, literally but also socially since they have no place in the order of society’, and their physical itinerancy was taken to signify a moral waywardness as well.31 In their rejection of societal norms, their affinity for marginalized peoples and ideas, and in the distrust they engendered, the Franciscans of the thirteenth century fit the definition of liminality so well that anthropologist Victor Turner holds them up as exemplars of the concept.32 Just as liminal figures in the secular sphere were often opposed by society for the sake of order, the same process occurred throughout medieval church history in attempts to control ascetics, especially those given to wandering or seclusion.

Guthlac of Crowland, Outlaw of God Like outlaws, therefore, wandering ascetics had a high potential to carry with them the associations of liminality, both positive and negative. The correspondence is most clearly seen in the tradition of Guthlac, an AngloSaxon saint who inhabited both roles explicitly. He was an early figure of devotion, and the popularity of his cult can be seen in the wide variety of extant materials that are dedicated to him. However for the purposes of examining his liminal status, the focus here will be on three works. The 28 Augustine, Epistola CLXXXV, Epistolae, pp. 797-798; Sermo LXII, Contra Gaudentium Donastistarum episcopum, pp. 311-312; pp. 725 and 737-738; and Chadwick, ‘The Ascetic Ideal in the History of the Church’, p. 12. 29 Benedict, Regula, pp. 17-19 and 133-138 (chpts. 1 and 57). 30 For the process in Ireland, see Hughes, ‘The Changing Theory and Practice of Irish Pilgrimage’, pp. 146-147; and Bray, ‘Allegory in the Navigatio Sancti Brendani’, pp. 181-182. For Anglo-Saxon England, see Thacker, ‘Bede’s Ideal of Reform’, pp. 130-153; Campbell, ‘Bede I’, pp. 1-27; Jones, ‘Envisioning the Cenobium in the Old English Guthlac A’, pp. 259-291; and Clayton, ‘Hermits and the Contemplative Life in Anglo-Saxon England’, pp. 147-175. 31 Szittya, The Antifraternal Tradition in Medieval Literature, pp. 222 and 227-230. See also pp. 93 and 249-251. 32 Turner, The Ritual Process, pp. 140-154.

The Transgressive Hero


first two are the longest prose accounts of his life, the Latin Vita of Felix of Crowland written a decade or two after Guthlac’s death in 715, and the Old English translation which is usually dated to the reign of King Alfred. The third work is Guthlac A, the first of two poems dramatizing aspects of Guthlac’s life in the tenth-century Exeter Book.33 These three works are unique in their extended looks at the youth of Guthlac, before he felt the calling to serve the Church and instead served as leader of a Männerbund along the borders of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia. The accounts of the vitae and that of the poem differ in crucial aspects,34 but both describe Guthlac’s activities that point to his participation in a Männerbund and attraction to liminality, both in his youth and his later life. According to Felix, the young Guthlac, inspired by the deeds of past heroes, ‘adgregatis satellitum turmis, sese in arma convertit’ (‘refashioned himself in arms, gathering a band of followers’). The use of the verb convertere, one that suggests both change and movement (from vertere, ‘to turn’), emphasizes the transformational quality of this moment, as Guthlac is ‘mutata mente’ (‘altered in mind’) once he makes this decision.35 That his transition into a martial life is akin to a rite de passage is supported as well by his raiding party, which, like the Männerbünde found elsewhere in the North Atlantic, functions at the boundaries. Its membership is multicultural;36 more specifically, it operates and associates with the Britons found at the 33 For the extent of the material on Guthlac, as well as a description, see Roberts, ‘An Inventory of Early Guthlac Materials’, pp. 193-233; and Black, ‘Tradition and Transformation in the Cult of St Guthlac in Early Medieval England’. For additional information on the vitae, see Gonser, ‘Untersuchungen’, in Das angelsächsiche Prosa-Leben des hl. Guthlac, pp. 1-96; Kurtz, ‘From St. Antony to St. Guthlac: a Study in Biography’, pp. 103-146; Colgrave, Introduction, Felix’s Life of Saint Guthlac, pp. 1-54; Olsen, ‘Old English Poetry and Latin Prose’, pp. 273-282; and Meaney, ‘Felix’s Life of Guthlac: History or Hagiography?’ pp. 75-84. The Old English version was also excerpted to create Homily XXIII of the Vercelli Book. This is included alongside the text of the vita in Gonser’s edition, but can also be found in The Vercelli Homilies and Related Texts, pp. 381-394. For Guthlac A, see Roberts, ‘A Metrical Examination of the Poems Guthlac A and Guthlac B’, pp. 91-136; Roberts, Introduction, The Guthlac Poems of the Exeter Book, pp. 1-36 and 48-71; Roberts, ‘Guthlac A: Sources and Source Hunting’, pp. 1-18; and Conner, ‘Source Studies, the Old English Guthlac A and the English Benedictine Reformation’, pp. 380-413. 34 The most thorough exploration of variation between the works can be found in Hall, ‘Constructing Anglo-Saxon Sanctity’, pp. 207-236. 35 Felix, Felix’s Life of St. Guthlac, p. 80; the Old English version simply uses the verb fon, ‘to take’. Das angelsächsische Prosa-Leben des hl. Guthlac, p. 108. 36 It is undique diversarum gentium socius, ‘a confederacy of diverse peoples from all over’. Felix, Felix’s Life of St. Guthlac, p. 80. The Old English does not preserve this, describing Guthlac’s depredations as wide geond eorþan menigfeald (‘various [and] wide-ranging throughout the world’) rather than his companions. Das angelsächsische Prosa-Leben des hl. Guthlac, p. 108.



Western border of Mercia. Later on Guthlac’s familiarity with these peoples is revealed, and it is said that he ‘exulabat’ (‘had lived as an exile’) among them.37 In the Old English version, the expression is translated by saying that Guthlac had been ‘on wrace’ (‘in exile’) for some time with the Britons.38 Moreover, the men whose stories inspire him are described here as unmenn, a word which, like wrecca, could have positive or negative connotations.39 Guthlac’s band conforms with what is known about the gangs of aristocratic youths present in Britain at this time. It is worth keeping in mind that Guthlac was a minor aristocrat of the Mercian royal house, and as such would have been eligible for the throne. His father appears to have already been driven out of the kingdom, perhaps due to his similar potential to contest the kingship,40 and some more imaginative readings of Guthlac’s own career have read his retreat into hermitage as a punishment after attempts at a coup caused a tragic death. 41 That Guthlac’s course of action at this time was considered scandalous is borne out in the sources. Alaric Hall is of the opinion that Felix attempts to soften Guthlac’s past for his Christian audience, 42 but the composer of Guthlac A was far less circumspect. In the poem, Guthlac’s inspiration for his youthful indiscretions was a demon, and his activities described thus: ‘he sceaðena gemot/ nihtes sohte 7 þurh neþinge/ wunne æfter worulde swa doð wræcmæcgas’43 (‘he sought the company of nighttime criminals, and as wreccan do pursued things of the world through audacious action’). Wræcmæcgas (‘exile-men’) is a variant on wrecca, 44 and the use of this word in conjunction with sceaðan (‘criminals’) makes clear the poet’s opinion on outlaw bands such Guthlac’s: like the fían tradition in Ireland in the same period, the actions of such wayward men are to be condemned, not celebrated. In Felix, however, such groups are depicted in a much more positive light. Guthlac is not the only leader of an unsanctioned warrior troop in the Vita. There is also Æthelbald, the future king of Mercia but at this time an exul (‘exile’) under the reign of Ceolred who spends much of his time 37 Felix, Felix’s Life of St. Guthlac, p. 110. For an examination of the role of the British in Guthlac’s legend, see Brady, ‘Colonial Desire or Political Disengagement?’ pp. 61-78. 38 Das angelsächsische Prosa-Leben des hl. Guthlac, p. 136. 39 Estes, Anglo-Saxon Literary Landscapes, pp. 94-95. 40 Felix, Felix’s Life of St. Guthlac, pp. 72-75; Abels, Lordship and Military Obligation, pp. 35 and 44-45; Charles-Edwards, ‘Early Medieval Kingship in the British Isles’, p. 37; O’Keeffe, ‘Guthlac’s Crossings’, pp. 3-7; and Damon, Soldier Saints and Holy Warriors, p. 66. 41 Henderson, Vision and Image in Early Christian England, pp. 214-221. 42 Hall, ‘Constructing Anglo-Saxon Sanctity’, pp. 210-213. 43 Guthlac A, lines 127b-129. 44 See Greenfield, ‘The Exile-Wanderer in Anglo-Saxon Poetry’, pp. 79-80.

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as a guest of the saint. His plight is outlined briefly, and he is depicted as being persecuted by the king, though for what reason is not given.45 That he was seen as a rival to the throne and accordingly driven off seems obvious given his eventual succession, and his band of followers conforms to the standard of an Anglo-Saxon Männerbund both in its behavior and in the terminology attached to it. Felix describes Æthelbald as an exul repeatedly, almost as a title, and the Old English translation is similarly straightforward in designating him a wrecca. 46 His followers, too, are described in the Old English translation as geferan, ‘fellow-travelers’. 47 Bertram Colgrave, in his translation of Felix’s Vita, notes the usage but in translating the Latin comes chooses instead another Anglo-Saxon word, gesith. 48 Both words are extremely similar, each derived from separate Anglo-Saxon verbs for travel – faran and siðian, respectively – but gesith is a more technical term. Its meaning evolved as Anglo-Saxon society developed, but while it was quite prominent prior to the Danish invasions, by King Alfred’s reign it was used only rarely outside of poetry. In the first half of the eighth century, when Felix was writing, it had two specific meanings: ‘that of the tried retainer, the fully-fledged warrior […] the duguð [veterans] as compared with the geoguð [youths]’ and ‘the estate-holder, the warrior who had been rewarded with a grant of land’. As such, it is a wholly inappropriate term for followers of Æthelbald during his exile, as his group is of youths and he is in no position to bestow land on anyone. As gesith fell into disuse, the particular meanings it retained were of landowning and wedded status. Clearly gesith denoted a mature fighter, one attached to a king or other leader in control of large tracts of land. 49 Gefara, in contrast, has none of these connotations. Alexander Callander Murray, examining the term in the context of its Continental Germanic cognates, concludes that their essential sense is ‘the basic and original meaning of expeditio [campaigning] and following’.50 For this reason it is a better fit for the more youthful, more martial, less institutionalized spirit of the Männerbund. Guthlac’s comrades 45 Felix, Felix’s Life of St. Guthlac, pp. 148-149; and Das angelsächsische Prosa-Leben des hl. Guthlac, p. 159. 46 Felix, Felix’s Life of St. Guthlac, pp. 70-73, 124-125, 138-139 and 148-149; and Das angelsächsische Prosa-Leben des hl. Guthlac, pp. 148, 153 and 159. 47 Das angelsächsische Prosa-Leben des hl. Guthlac, pp. 148 and 152-153. 48 Colgrave, Felix’s Life of St. Guthlac, p. 189n. 49 Loyn, ‘Gesiths and Thegns in Anglo-Saxon England from the Seventh to the Tenth Century’, pp. 529-540, with the quotes on p. 530. See also Chadwick, Studies on Anglo-Saxon Institutions, pp. 378-383. 50 Murray, Germanic Kinship Structure, p. 110. See also pp. 89-97.



in his raiding days are described as gefaran as well, even though he is not destined to be king.51 The Guthlac tradition, then, features two outlaws prominently. In many ways there is not a great divergence between the two figures, the outlaw and future king and the ascetic and prior outlaw. John Edward Damon reads Felix’s Vita as a story of two lost souls, each of whom ‘underwent related and yet fundamentally different transformations’.52 Yet while Æthelbald and Guthlac take on roles that are quite dissimilar by a number of metrics – degree of direct secular power, duties, pace of life – there is little difference in the situations or the abilities granted them by their rovings which led them to their respective positions. Guthlac has a spiritual awakening, yet it is one that is prompted by the tumultuous life he leads. In Felix, his return to Christianity is just as abrupt a transition as his turn towards outlawry – it, too, is a rite de passage occurring in a liminal setting. Tellingly, in describing the state of mind in which Guthlac’s revelation comes to him, Felix resorts to the imagery of a difficult journey,53 saying that ‘supradictus vir beatae memoriae Guthlac inter dubios volventis temporis eventus et atras caliginosae vitae nebulas, fluctuantes inter saeculi gurgites iactaretur’54 (‘this aforementioned man of blessed memory, Guthlac, was being roiled amongst the precarious events of his time and the gloomy murk of the fog of his life, being tossed amidst the swelling currents of waves of his age’). It is in such a mindset that Guthlac’s vagabunda mens (‘wandering mind’) is hit by the sudden desire to abandon his sinful ways and pursue a life devoted to God. Throughout the description of his mood, Felix utilizes terms that reflect the transience of Guthlac’s position – volvente, fluctuans, vagabunda. The strategy is also employed by the Old English translator, who omits the journey metaphor yet still says that Guthlac was inspired færinga (‘suddenly’) after following his farendum weg55 (‘wandering path’) – phrases which etymologically recall movement but also the concept of conduct with the usage of weg.56 His present state is crucial in getting him to the moment of epiphany, as it is what conditions him to conceive and accept the idea. Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe describes 51 Das angelsächsische Prosa-Leben des hl. Guthlac, p. 110. 52 Damon, Soldier Saints and Holy Warriors, p. 63. 53 Indeed, this was a common metaphor in Anglo-Saxon England. See Harbus, ‘The Maritime Imagination and the Paradoxical Mind in Old English Poetry’, pp. 21-42. 54 Felix, Felix’s Life of St. Guthlac, p. 80. For a similar reading of this passage, see Cohen, Medieval Identity Machines, pp. 127-128. 55 Das angelsächsische Prosa-Leben des hl. Guthlac, p. 109. 56 See pp. 80-81.


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Guthlac’s liminal environment as ‘a space for the meeting of incompatibles’, paralleling Gloria Anzaldúa’s assertion that those on the borderlands are capable of making counterintuitive connections that strike the more socialized as entirely unrelated.57 That is precisely what happens here to set Guthlac on his path towards asceticism. The moment is depicted as a leap of logic, arising not naturally from the course of his thoughts but rather coming to him from out of the blue.58 Already unmoored from the norms of civilization, the outlaw Guthlac is likewise able to direct his mind in unusual directions. It is Guthlac’s errant youth which leads him to his holy calling. While neither of the vitae acknowledges the connection, in Guthlac A the saint describes a similar process of youthful folly morphing into maturity. In doing so he does not reference his own indiscretions, but for those knowledgeable of his past like the poet, they may be taken to inform his opinion. One night the hermit is attacked by demons, who carry him aloft and reveal to him the many hidden sins of young monks so as to undermine his own resolve. Guthlac perceives that ‘Setton me in edwit þæt ic eaðe forbær/ rume regulas 7 reþe mod geongra monna’ (‘You hold me in reproach that I indulgently countenanced the lax rules and rebellious attitudes of young men’), and replies, God scop geoguðe ne magun þa æfteryld blæde geberan worulde wynnum gegæð in þa geoguðe onsyn 7 ætwist ðe gemete monige þeowiað in þeawum; wisdom weras, siððan geoguðe geað

7 gumena dream; in þam ærestan ac hy blissiað oððæt wintra rim þæt se gæst lufað yldran hades geond middangeard þeodum ywaþ wlencu forleosað, gæst aflihð.59

God made the young as well as pleasure for men. Maturity cannot bear its fruit in them at first; instead they revel in the joys of the world until the number of years advances in the young so that the spirit favors the desire for and qualities of older things which many throughout the world 57 O’Keeffe, ‘Guthlac’s Crossings’, p. 3; and Anzaldúa, Borderlands/ La Frontera, p. 101. 58 Felix, Felix’s Life of St. Guthlac, pp. 80-81. 59 Guthlac A, lines 488-490a and 495-504.



devote themselves to in the proper way. These men reveal their wisdom to people [and] renounce pride once their spirit flees the foolishness of youth.

From Guthlac’s perspective, it is not the place of the young to do as he does. It is only after a period of errancy that one grows into Christian devotion, with the spirit, once again, undertaking motion to afleon the sinful things that once brought the man pleasure.60 What Guthlac portrays here is a classic rite de passage, the transition from childhood to maturity. The Guthlac of the poem sees willfulness and disobedience as a step along the path to spiritual fulfillment; the Guthlac of the vitae expresses his own rebellion through participation in the Männerbund and receives a holy recompense for it. Spiritual benefit is obtained as well by Æthelbald in his participation in a Männerbund, though in this case, given the course of his life, his spiritual growth serves to support him in his secular affairs. It was outlined in Chapter 1 how forming a Männerbund could provide one with the capital necessary to achieve the kingship.61 Some forms of that capital could certainly be derived from the Church, in the form of institutional support, expressions of favor or gratitude, or simply the establishment of a pious reputation. It is such capital that Æthelbald accrues in the course of Guthlac’s Vita. Nowhere in the work is the future king shown fighting. Instead, he stands as witness to the saint’s miracles, two of which further benefit him by healing his geferan.62 It is only on account of his outlawry that Æthelbald is in the position to see Guthlac on these occasions, as the hermit lives far from any usual habitation. Yet because of his circumstances Æthelbald comes to be known as a good friend of a venerated saint – ‘qui ante solus refugiam et consolatio laborum illius erat’63 (‘who alone had been [Æthelbald’s] refuge and consolation during his past travails’) – and in his time contending against Ceolred he becomes famous not for his depredations or whatever violence he wreaked, but rather for the spiritual enlightenment it afforded him.64 His association with Guthlac and the benefit he derives from the 60 This reading is largely in agreement with Norris, ‘The Augustinian Theory of Use and Enjoyment in Guthlac A and B’, pp. 166-170. 61 See pp. 59-60. 62 Felix, Felix’s Life of St. Guthlac, pp. 124-127, 130-133 and 138-141; and Das angelsächsische Prosa-Leben des hl. Guthlac, pp. 143-145, 148-149 and 152-154. 63 Felix, Felix’s Life of St. Guthlac, pp. 164-165. In Das angelsächsische Prosa-Leben des hl. Guthlac, p. 170, ‘he ana ærþon wæs hys gebeorh and frofor’ (‘he alone was his refuge and consolation’). 64 N.J. Higham has an alternate opinion, seeing the actual praise for Æthelbald in Felix’s vita as faint, and arguing that the real figure honored in the piece is Ælfwald, the king of East Anglia to whom the work is dedicated and who, according to Higham, comes off looking quite well in comparison to the feckless outlaw in the work. ‘Guthlac’s Vita, Mercia and East Anglia in the

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relationship culminates with a conversation he has with the saint before his death and with a vision he experiences at the holy man’s grave. At both moments Guthlac prophesies Æthelbald’s ultimate success in achieving the kingdom.65 These episodes serve to burnish the legacies of both men: Guthlac is depicted as a true prophet and patron of a divinely-appointed king, while Æthelbald is able to claim the approval of God and his esteemed servant Guthlac.66

The Intersection of Outlaw and Ascetic These implications carry over, however, only if the audience can see outlawry as a plausible context in which to derive spiritual benefit. That Felix emphasizes the association between the saint and the future Mercian king indicates as much, as does the wider Anglo-Saxon hagiographical and historiographical tradition. Future kings other than Æthelbald had religious awakenings and received baptism while in exile,67 and other saints pursued martial careers before devoting their lives to God.68 The relationship is further bolstered by the characterization of Guthlac’s ascetic vocation in both the vitae and Guthlac A. To hear both Felix and the poet speak of it, Guthlac’s later life is antithetical to the vagaries of his youth. However, as has already been discussed, in practice both outlawry and asceticism had much in common, and nowhere is this correlation more evident than with Guthlac. Lindy Brady has recently examined the ambiguity of the saint’s identity in Guthlac A,69 and Felix’s Vita likewise draws parallels between Guthlac First Half of the Eighth Century’, pp. 85-90. However, see Cubitt, ‘Memory and Narrative in the Cult of Early Anglo-Saxon Saints’, pp. 50-57. 65 Felix, Felix’s Life of St. Guthlac, pp. 148-151 and 164-167; and Das angelsächsische Prosa-Leben des hl. Guthlac, pp. 159-160 and 170-172. 66 For an overview of Æthelbald’s reign, see Kirby, The Earliest English Kings, pp. 129-136; Keynes, ‘The Kingdom of the Mercians in the Eighth Century’, pp. 7-8; and Yorke, ‘Æthelbald, Offa and the Patronage of Nunneries’, pp. 43-45. Despite Guthlac’s (or, perhaps more accurately, Felix’s) imprimatur, Æthelbald is popularly remembered as an impious king, at least in the latter portion of his rule. This reputation is largely derived from a letter of St. Boniface, where the missionary upbraids Æthelbald for seducing nuns and oppressing churches. Boniface, Die Briefe des Heiligen Bonifatius und Lollus, pp. 146-155. 67 See, for example, Edwin of Deira, Oswald of Bernicia, Cenwalh of Wessex, and Cædwalla of Wessex. Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, pp. 174-183, 218-219 and 232-235; Adomnán, Vita Sancta Columbae, p. 12; and Eddius Stephanus, The Life of Bishop Wilfrid, pp. 84-85. 68 Examples include Cuthbert, Benedict Biscop, and Eosterwine. Vita Sancti Cuthberti Auctore Anonymo, pp. 72-73; and Bede, Vita sanctorum abbatum monasterii, pp. 394-395 and 408-411. 69 Brady, ‘Colonial Desire or Political Disengagement?’ pp. 75-77.



the outlaw on one hand and Guthlac the hermit on the other. One such similarity is their alienation from society. It has already been shown how Guthlac’s raiding took him outside of accepted norms and away from population centers, but in choosing the life of a hermit Guthlac is, if anything, growing even more antisocial. At the outset of his devotional life, ‘regalis indolentiae reverentiam despiceret […] et parentes et patriam comitesque adolescentiae suae contempsit’70 (‘he neglectfully disdained reverence of his rank and turned his back on his parents, his homeland, and the companions of his youth’). He rejects his connections and duty to society and his place within it. Yet even this is not enough. When engaged as a regular monk, the brethren initially hate him, and he soon decides to leave the monastic community and live on his own (interestingly, he is inspired once again by stories of old heroes – this time the monks of Egypt).71 In Guthlac A, as well, he is devoted to solitude. The main action of the poem concerns Guthlac’s struggles with demons who seek to ruin his devotion and retake the site of his ascetic exercises. However, what they tempt him with specifically is a return to society. They ‘wolden þæt him to mode fore monlufan/ sorg gesohte þæt he siþ tuge/ eft to eþle’ (‘wished that a craving for the fellowship of men would seize his mind so that he would again take a journey to his homeland’) and demand that ‘he monna dream […] sylfa gesecan’ (‘he seek the enjoyment of others for himself’).72 Guthlac resists this temptation, affirming his fortitude as an ascetic by rejecting society and his place in it. The environment he seeks in his bid for solitude, moreover, places him in much the same position he occupied in his youth – in his years of outlawry Guthlac patrolled the border between Mercia and the British kingdoms, and in his ascetic quest he settles on the indistinct boundary between Mercia and its southeastern neighbors.73 He in effect trades one liminal space for another. Yet the site of his devotions is not simply intermediate between

70 Felix, Felix’s Life of St. Guthlac, pp. 82-83. 71 Felix, Felix’s Life of St. Guthlac, pp. 84-87. 72 Guthlac A, lines 195b, 197a and 353-355a. 73 See Brady, ‘Colonial Desire or Political Disengagement?’ pp. 73-75. The difficulty in determining the distinct and independent polities in this region in the early Anglo-Saxon period and the exact extent of the Mercian kingdom is outlined in Dumville, ‘Essex, Middle Anglia and the Expansion of Mercia in the South-East Midlands’, pp. 123-140; and Brooks, ‘The Formation of the Mercian Kingdom’, pp. 159-170. For the physical character of the fens in the early Middle Ages, see Darby, ‘The Fenland Frontier in Anglo-Saxon England’, pp. 185-201; Darby, The Medieval Fenland, pp. 1-20; Courtney, ‘The Early Saxon Fenland: A Reconsideration’, pp. 91-102; Hayes, ‘Roman to Saxon in the South Lincolnshire Fens’, pp. 321-326; and Hall and Coles, Fenland Survey.

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polities, but also between civilization and nature.74 The poet of Guthlac A describes the region as a mearclond,75 a term which means both ‘borderland’ and ‘wilderness’. Felix describes the region thus: Est in meditullaneis Brittanniae partibus inmensae magnitudinis aterrima palus, quae, a Grontae fluminis ripis incipiens, haud procul a castello quem dicunt nomine Gronte, nunc stagnis, nunc flactris, interdum nigris fusi vaporis laticibus, necnon et crebris insularum nemorumque intervenientibus flexuosis rivigarum anfractibus, ab austro in aquilonem mare tenus longissimo tractu protenditur.76 There is in the inland portions of Britain an extremely dark fen of immense size that, originating at the banks of the River Granta [and] not very far from the encampment that goes by the name of Cambridge, [is] here still water, there tidal marshes, with the occasional black watercourse with fog everywhere. There are also numerous islands and groves dotted among the twisting streams that wind [through the region], which is a lengthy zone that extends from the south towards the sea in the north.

It is a harsh environment, one not conducive to human habitation on account of its natural features alone; H.C. Darby characterizes it as a ‘frontier region, separating peoples and exercising a repelling action’ upon habitation.77 Compounding its inhospitable nature – or perhaps symbolizing it – are the evil spirits that haunt the place. Felix notes twice that others have tried to settle the area but were forced to give up; clearly it takes an unusual man to thrive there. As Guthlac A says of them, ‘Sume þa wuniað on westennum/ secað 7 gesittað sylfra willum/ hamas on heolstrum’78 (‘There are some who inhabit the wastelands, seek out homes in dark, hidden places and settle there of their own will’). Yet such predilections are not restricted to those moved to serve God, and instead include all drawn to liminal space – the outcast and savage along with the hermit. The demons conflate 74 A general view of this environment as appropriate for a holy man can be found in Sullivan, ‘The Medieval Monk as Frontiersman’, pp. 25-49. For a specific examination of the different levels of liminality at work at Guthlac’s site, see Brady, ‘Colonial Desire or Political Disengagement?’ pp. 67-68. 75 Guthlac A, line 174a. 76 Felix, Felix’s Life of St. Guthlac, pp. 86-87. Cf. Das angelsächsische Prosa-Leben des hl. Guthlac, p. 113. 77 Darby, ‘The Fenland Frontier’, p. 185. 78 Guthlac A, lines 81-82a.



these categories when they describe Guthlac ‘swa wilde deor/ ana from eþele’ (‘like a wild animal, isolated from your homeland’), terms commonly used to characterize and dehumanize the outlaw.79 Bede also notes the correspondence between fugitives and ascetics when he writes of the site for a monastery chosen by St. Cedd, an Anglo-Saxon hermit who evangelized Guthlac’s region the generation before. The location, like Guthlac’s, has features that ‘latronum magis latibula ac lustra ferarum quam habitacula fuisse uidebantur hominum’80 (‘were thought to have been better suited to the hideouts of outlaws or haunts of wild animals than the settlement of humans’). Given the forbidding description of such regions, the positive associations attached to them can easily seem inconsistent.81 Yet, as has been seen with ailithre, the difficulty of a course of action was often its point, and by settling a region that was as unfriendly as it was lonely, Guthlac was only pursuing asceticism all the more vigorously. His background only made him more suited to his project. He had already proven to flourish in the heolstras as a being who embraced their sinister implications; now he would apply his affinity for such shadowy regions for God’s glory. In doing so, Guthlac does not so much abandon his previous fighting career as he redirects it. Guthlac is a miles Christi, a soldier of Christ, and while the designation as such is not particularly unique to Christian hagiography,82 the understanding of Guthlac as such is central to his identity as a saint. Guthlac A describes him repeatedly as such, labeling Guthlac and those like him as cempan (‘soldiers’, ‘champions’) or rendering the Latin title fully into Old English as Christes cempa along with the variants meotudes cempa and dryhtnes cempa (‘soldier of the Lord’). Even Guthlac B, which focuses on the saint’s peaceful death rather than his spiritual battles, describes Guthlac as godes cempa and dryhtnes cempa.83 War is even more closely integrated into Guthlac’s identity in Felix’s Vita, as it is literally written into his name. As Felix etymologizes, ex appellatione illius tribus, quam dicunt Guthlacingas, proprietatis vocabulum velut ex caelesti consilio Guthlac percepit, quia ex qualitatis conpositione adsequentibus meritis conveniebat. Nam ut illius gentis gnari perhibent, Anglorum lingua hoc nomen ex duobus integris constare 79 Guthlac A, lines 276b-277a. 80 Bede, Ecclesiastical History, pp. 286-287. 81 See Brady, ‘Colonial Desire or Political Disengagement?’ pp. 68-71. 82 Hill, ‘The Soldier of Christ in Old English Prose and Poetry’, Leeds Studies in English, 12 (1981), pp. 57-80. 83 Guthlac A, lines 91a, 153a, 180b, 324b, 402b, 438b, 513b, 558b, 576a, 580b, 688b, 727b and 797a; Guthlac B, lines 889a and 901b.

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videtur, hoc est ‘Guth’ et ‘lac’, quod Romani sermonis nitore personat ‘belli munus’, quia ille cum vitiis bellando munera aeternae beatitudinis cum triumphali perennis vitae percepisset.84 Guthlac received [his name] from the name of a certain tribe which was called the Guthlacingas, a peculiar appellation seemingly ordained from heaven, due to the combination of qualities brought together by its apt assemblage. For as people knowledgeable of such things relate, this name in the Angles’ language is understood to consist of two elements, guth and lac, which are put eloquently in the Latin tongue as belli munus (‘war’s reward’), because that man would triumphantly obtain the rewards of eternal blessing and everlasting life for fighting against sins.

This folk etymology is given so that the reader may believe that Guthlac was destined to serve God, yet is just as equally destines Guthlac to the particular service of fighting. Brady sees the saint as continually tempted to return to his violent past in Guthlac A, and Jeffrey Jerome Cohen notes, in his reading of the Vita, that when Guthlac encounters demons in the fens, he faces recreations of his past identity as a warrior as they take on the forms of prior enemies in order to intimidate him.85 Yet while his past perhaps makes him vulnerable to such attack, it also has prepared him to combat it. Damon has listed the multiple examples of martial imagery by which Guthlac’s retirement to the fens is described by Felix.86 In preparation for his devotions he is girded with ‘scutum fidei, loricum spei, galeam castitatis, arcum patientiae, sagittas psalmodiae’87 (‘the shield of faith, the byrnie of hope, the helmet of chastity, the bow of patience, [and] the arrows of the psalms’). These are to protect him from his enemies (hostes), the Devil and his attendant demons, who use their own allegorical weapons (such as the veneniflua desperationis sagitta, the poisoned arrow of despair) to defeat him. When these fail, they take up actual arms against him.88 Guthlac perseveres, 84 Felix, Felix’s Life of St. Guthlac, pp. 76-79. Cf. Das angelsächsische Prosa-Leben des hl. Guthlac, pp. 106-107. See also Bolton, ‘The Background and Meaning of Guthlac’, pp. 595-603; and Robinson, ‘The Significance of Names in Old English Literature’, pp. 44-50. 85 Brady, ‘Colonial Desire or Political Disengagement?’ pp. 76-77; and Cohen, Medieval Identity Machines, pp. 132-134. 86 Damon, Soldier Saints and Holy Warriors, pp. 75-81. 87 Felix, Felix’s Life of St. Guthlac, pp. 90-91. Cf. Das angelsächsische Prosa-Leben des hl. Guthlac, p. 116. 88 Felix, Felix’s Life of St. Guthlac, pp. 94-99 and 108-113. Cf. Das angelsächsische Prosa-Leben des hl. Guthlac, pp. 119 and 135-139.



however, and so nothing can harm him either spiritually or physically. Felix’s Vita, an example of the genre markedly committed to the conceit of the miles Christi, is a work wherein all the exertions of the hermit – fasting, prayer, the overcoming of loneliness and the suppression of ego – are understood in terms of physical battle (the monks of Egypt, for example, did not simply resist temptation in Felix’s recollection – they ‘abstinentiae framea interimebant’89 [‘slew (it) with the spear of abstinence’]). The result is a narrative in which, as an outlaw and as a saint, Guthlac is depicted as engaging in the same violent activities, and wherein Guthlac’s past martial feats prepared him for the stand he makes against the malevolent forces that attack him in the fens. The conflation of warrior and ascetic within Guthlac’s tradition also appears in one of the most contentious details of his story. Famously, Guthlac takes his stand upon a beorg. Beorg is another word with martial connotations (it can mean ‘stronghold’), but it carries with it further implications that have led to much comment. Beorg is Guthlac A’s term for the portion of land on which Guthlac builds his hermitage; in Felix, it is a tumulus, and the Old English version a hlaw.90 Some scholars, on the basis of such terminology, have identified the site as a barrow – an ancient burial mound and therefore a pagan artifact.91 That the site of Guthlac’s endeavors would be a heathen burial mound indicates further his connection with liminality and outlawry. Criminals, as we have seen, were often pushed to the boundaries by the legal regimes of the North Atlantic. Such was also the case if they were put to death by the authorities. Borders were the sites of ‘execution cemeteries’, plots where those unfit for a consecrated burial would be interred. Very often, these locations were marked as well by tumuli.92 In other cases, burial would take place in bogs,93 and so Guthlac’s site, being a barrow rising out of the fen, was doubly indicative of criminality associated 89 Felix, Felix’s Life of St. Guthlac, pp. 98-99. Cf. Felix, Felix’s Life of St. Guthlac, pp. 90-91; and Das angelsächsische Prosa-Leben des hl. Guthlac, p. 124. 90 Guthlac, A lines 140a, 148a, 175b, 192a, 209a, 232b, 262b, 329a, 383b, 429a, 439a and 733a; Felix’s Life of St. Guthlac, pp. 92-93; and Das angelsächsische Prosa-Leben des hl. Guthlac, p. 117. 91 Shook, ‘The Burial Mound in “Guthlac A”’, pp. 1-10; Semple, ‘A Fear of the Past’, pp. 109-126; and Hall, ‘Constructing Anglo-Saxon Sanctity’, pp. 214-230. For an extensive and nuanced look at the nature of the beorg and its meaning, see Brady, “Colonial Desire or Political Disengangement?” pp. 63-75; and Estes, Anglo-Saxon Literary Landscapes, pp. 111-115. 92 Reynolds, Anglo-Saxon Burial Customs, pp. 30, 155-157, 203-206 and 247-250. For the practice in Ireland, Wales, and Iceland, see Charles-Edwards, ‘Boundaries in Irish Law’, pp. 83-87; and Sayers, ‘The Alien and Alienated as Unquiet Dead in the Sagas of the Icelanders’, p. 243. 93 Caciola, ‘Wraiths, Revenants and Ritual in Medieval Culture’, p. 30; and Blair, ‘The Dangerous Dead in Early Medieval England’, pp. 550-551.

The Transgressive Hero


with the margins. In some cases, the liminal character of the condemned persisted beyond execution, as they proved capable of violating the ultimate boundary between death and life as a walking corpse. The transgressive nature of these beings’ lives is what is seen to give them this peculiar power in death. As Nancy Caciola observes, the two considerations in determining whether a person was liable to become a revenant was their conduct in life and manner of death, ‘two factors which can scarcely be separated […] the undead are most often presented as having lived an evil life leading to a bad end’.94 Those who tested the limits in life therefore did the same in death. Those who come back from the dead are most often described as antisocial, and in many cases they are already foreigners in the land;95 in breaching the boundary between life and death they are simply persisting in their liminality. A setting with these dubious associations is the one Guthlac chooses for his spiritual retreat. Of course, while the correlation of burial mounds with hauntings may explain the demons Guthlac opposes, one need not rely on pagan or indigenous practices to explain this feature of Guthlac’s beorg. Felix, especially, takes his description of the place largely from Athanasius’ depiction of Antony’s retreat in the desert, which is also a tomb (monumentum) and also where a saint constantly grappled with countless evil spirits.96 Noting the correspondences, Paul F. Reichardt argues that Guthlac’s beorg holds Christian significance as the apex of spiritual fulfillment achieved through the arduous work of the ascetic as depicted by John Cassian.97 Contending with demons, as we have seen, is a common method to dramatize this solitary work, but as Hall notes, wrestling with a monster in a burial mound is also a frequent way for Anglo-Saxon and Icelandic heroes to prove themselves.98 The outlaw hero Grettir from the saga of his name breaks into a grave mound, battles the restless corpse inside, and emerges with a sword.99 Tellingly, Felix claims that before Guthlac had 94 Caciola, ‘Wraiths, Revenants and Ritual in Medieval Culture’, p. 27. 95 Sayers, ‘The Alien and Alienated as Unquiet Dead in the Sagas of the Icelanders’, pp. 256-259; Caciola, ‘Wraiths, Revenants and Ritual in Medieval Culture’, pp. 27-29; Reynolds, AngloSaxon Burial Customs, pp. 247-250; and Blair, ‘The Dangerous Dead in Early Medieval England’, pp. 547-548. 96 Athanasius, Vita di Antonio, p. 24. 97 Reichardt, ‘Guthlac A and the Landscape of Spiritual Perfection’, pp. 335-338. 98 Hall, ‘Constructing Anglo-Saxon Sanctity’, pp. 218-219. 99 Grettis saga, pp. 56-61 and 73. The saga episode’s similarities and possible relationship to Anglo-Saxon tradition is examined by McConchie in ‘Grettir Ásmundarson’s Fight with Kárr the Old’, pp. 481-486.



arrived, others had attempted to do the same with his tumulus.100 A similar robbery is what precipitates Beowulf’s fight with the dragon as well, by a thief who ‘heteswengeas fleah, (ærnes) þearfa’101 (‘fled hate-filled violence, the obligations of the house’) – a literal flyma. Hall also calls attention to the speaker in The Wife’s Lament, one of the archetypical examples of the Anglo-Saxon wrecca, who inhabits an eorðscrafe and eorðsele102 (a cave in the earth or an earthen grave, and an ‘earth-hall’). The beorg therefore is a liminal space, intermediate between earth and air, death and life, and it inspires, as Sarah Semple notes, the same ‘superstitious wariness […] also connected with boundaries’.103 It is also, as we have seen, connected plausibly to both ascetics and outlaws. Yet in disputing the term’s meaning, scholars often assume that it must be indicative of either one or the other. The tension between the two significations may be intended. Brady recognizes this, noting that, ‘this ambiguity is crucial to [Guthlac A’s] structure, for while the beorg’s bleakness and demonic inhabitants suggest a pagan barrow, Guthlac’s spiritual progression supports a typological reading’.104 The ambiguity is given further justification if one accepts the similarity between ascetics and outlaws, and recognizes their fusion in the character of Guthlac: the beorg is a site upon which the devout can both reach spiritual perfection and martial glory, just as the miles Christi is both a fighter and saint and Guthlac is both an ascetic and an outlaw. Guthlac’s story, therefore, in its various incarnations, is one which displays in multifarious ways the flexibility in identity inherent to an individual such as Guthlac who inhabits a state of liminality. Yet if Guthlac is like an outlaw in many ways there are still important differences between him and a criminal outlaw or one exiled like Æthelbald. The works of the Guthlac tradition certainly maintain a distinction, mediated through their particular connotations of the term wrecca. In Guthlac A, for example, wrecca is meant to be understood as an unambiguously negative term. Guthlac is like a wræcmæcg only before he abandons his outlawry (which the poet depicts as wicked); after that, the term describes his demonic opponents, beings who occupy a wræcsetl (‘place of exile’) and embark on wræcsiðas (‘journeys of 100 Felix, Felix’s Life of St. Guthlac, pp. 92-95. 101 Beowulf, lines 2224b-2225a. The text is corrupt here and so ‘ærnes’ is speculative. 102 Hall, ‘Constructing Anglo-Saxon Sanctity’, pp. 225-230; and The Wife’s Lament, ASPR 3, lines 28b and 29a. 103 Semple, ‘A Fear of the Past’, p. 123. Manish Sharma reads Guthlac A literally as a liminal work when he interprets the poem as a series of thresholds examined in the course of the piece. ‘A Reconsideration of the Structure of Guthlac A’, pp. 185-200. 104 Brady, ‘Colonial Desire or Political Disengagement?’ 64.

The Transgressive Hero


exile’).105 In Felix and the related translation, words such as exul or wrecca are reserved for secular outlaws, not ascetics. So, if outlaws and ascetics can be considered alike in their itinerancy, what remains to be discussed is how differences in their movements distinguish these two similar figures from each other and separate bad liminality from good. In other words, how is one supposed to interpret the morality of such individuals and their actions in any given work? The question has come back to conduct.

Doxa and Transgression In considering the role of conduct in the stories of North Atlantic outlaws and ascetics, it will be necessary to look more closely at the perceived effects of transient peoples on society, and to return to Pierre Bourdieu in the process. The various benefits accumulated those who move between cultures have already been outlined in Chapter 1 in terms laid out by him: unique forms of capital accrued by dint of their wielders’ mobility. The fear often was that with this power those with exotic connections would be able to adversely affect society. Yet a person with a surfeit of homegrown power could just as easily upset the status quo; the reason why foreign capital may be seen as different is due to its alien nature. Just as the capital which the itinerant possesses is foreign and less familiar than local capital, the effects of that capital similarly are seen as more likely to dramatically alter society in ways that are out of character for the community. That to stay ‘within character’ is a primary concern for either an individual or a society is the central point of another of Bourdieu’s sociological concepts, that of doxa. Doxa is, in Bourdieu’s terms, a sens des limites (‘a sense of limits’) or a ‘sense of one’s place’, as Bourdieu puts it otherwise in English.106 Elsewhere it is described as ‘the correspondence between the objective classes and the internalized classes, social structures and mental structures, which is the basis of the most ineradicable adherence to the established order’.107 It is, in other words, one’s own sense of propriety, the 105 Guthlac A, lines 129b, 231b, 263a, 296b, 509a, 558a, 623b and 688a. 106 Bourdieu, La Distinction, pp. 544 and 549. 107 Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice, p. 164. The original upon which this text is based, Esquisse d’une Théorie de la Pratique, differs considerably from its English translation. Nice claims that it ‘incorporates most of the changes which Pierre Bourdieu has made since [1972]’ (p. vii), yet no edition of the French which I have been able to f ind contains this section. I therefore present the English, with the assumption that Bourdieu’s French version of the edited text remains unpublished (which appears to be a practice with some of his other works).



way in which individuals participate in and reinforce the status quo by limiting their behavior based on neither conscious choice nor acknowledged rules, but simply social conditioning. Bourdieu’s other term for doxa is ‘a sense of reality’,108 emphasizing that, where doxa operates, a participant in society sees no difference between what is truly impossible and what is simply not done; to violate doxa would be, in the acculturated mind, utterly inconceivable.109 The concept is closely bound up with notions of location and boundary (as its understanding in terms of ‘limit’ or ‘place’ convey) and it becomes more so in the works of geographer Tim Cresswell. Cresswell transfers the concept of doxa from person to place, arguing that locations themselves have doxa, unacknowledged notions of the proper use of places.110 He also makes the core of his work the examination of the violation of doxa, an act he describes as ‘transgression’. Cresswell takes as his subjects groups who have, intentionally or not, repurposed places in ways that had previously never occurred to the surrounding populaces: private citizens producing art on others’ property, the counter-cultural movement’s appropriation of Stonehenge, female activists championing nuclear disarmament by squatting outside an air force base. Though as a geographer, Cresswell is more interested in physical locations, his study ends up discussing the doxae of both people and place – individuals acting against behavioral norms by utilizing land and property in radical ways. According to Cresswell, there are two consequences of a violation of doxa. The first is a matter of cultural definition, a phenomenon which is taken from Bourdieu. Doxa, being by nature unacknowledged, ceases to be doxa once it is effectively challenged. It is now ‘orthodoxy’.111 The difference between a social more as doxa and one as orthodoxy is that it is defined; in reacting against a violation of doxa, a society makes a statement about its values and character. As Michel de Certeau observes, ‘Tout se passe comme si la délimitation même était le pont qui ouvre le dedans à son autre’112 (‘It all occurs as if the very act of delimiting were the bridge exposing the interior to its opposite’). Through such a response – in resisting the transgression, accepting it, or managing it – a culture becomes more specific about what itself is. Yet the response to the violation of doxa is not always proportionate or reasonable. Cresswell also finds that acts of 108 Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice, p. 164. 109 Bourdieu, La Distinction, pp. 548-553 and 561-564. 110 Cresswell, In Place/ Out of Place, pp. 14-21. 111 Bourdieu, La Distinction, pp. 559-560; and Cresswell, In Place/Out of Place, pp. 19-20. 112 de Certeau, L’Invention du quotidian, p. 225.

The Transgressive Hero


transgression are usually conflated (to varying degrees of justice) to the related notions of ‘resistance’ and ‘deviance’ – those who violate doxa are automatically assumed to be rebellious and ‘disordered’ as well.113 Graffiti came to be equated with other undesirable elements that cities endeavored to keep off their streets – dirt, refuse, obscenity, disease, madness, the foreign. The same labels attached to the hippies and Travelers (Irish gypsies) at Stonehenge, with the added fear that they represented a type of invading army; the female peace activists were treated similarly, but commentary on their actions took on a decidedly sexist cast, with the protesters criticized for being simultaneously unfeminine but also too weak and womanly.114 In all three cases, it was reasoned that, by violating one of society’s norms, these groups were rejecting all others as well. The tendency to see the violation of boundaries as a slippery slope towards all kinds of disorder has already been noted of the liminal figure, which is a label that can plausibly be attached to Cresswell’s subjects. The language of Bourdieu and Cresswell already invoke the liminal, in their invocation of ‘limit’ and ‘place’; Bourdieu states that doxa is a matter of ‘orientation’, while Cresswell notes that the literal meaning of ‘transgression’ is ‘crossing a boundary’.115 ‘Deviance’, too, another of Cresswell’s terms, conveys etymologically the act of straying from an established path (de via). De Certeau also relies on liminal imagery to describe similar concepts – societies define their boundaries and set their standards, yet it is upon these frontiers that innovation and advancement occur. Those in existence on the border are the agents of change, especially if they are present there to define the limits: ‘[C]et acteur, du seul fait qu’il est la parole de la limite, crée la communication autant que la séparation; bien plus, il ne pose un bord qu’en disant ce qui le traverse, venu de l’autre. Il articule. Il est aussi un passage’116 (‘This actor, due to the very fact that it is the expression of the border, generates discourse as much [as it does] separation; moreover, it establishes a limit only by declaring who crosses it, coming from the other side. It articulates it. It is also a means of access’). It is the role of the liminal figure to transgress, and in doing so challenge cultural norms for good and for ill, to transmute doxa into orthodoxy. Anzaldúa builds the sensitivity of those on the border to doxa into a sixth sense, la facultad, wherein one 113 Cresswell, In Place/Out of Place, pp. 21-27. 114 Cresswell, In Place/Out of Place, pp. 37-50, 81-94 and 105-121. 115 Bourdieu, La Distinction, p. 544; and Cresswell, In Place/Out of Place, p. 21. 116 de Certeau, L’Invention du quotidien, pp. 222-223. For a consideration of an Anglo-Saxon figure who operates as an agent of the boundary who defines cultural limits, understood mythically, see Hill, ‘Gods at the Borders’, pp. 241-256.



is able ‘to see in surface phenomena the meaning of deeper realities, to see the deep structure below the surface’.117 From their position outside of the community, the liminal are able to perceive the unspoken rules that serve to exclude them, effectively seeing doxa while those more acculturated do not. Through their interaction with communities and navigation of their doxae, the liminal therefore can serve to define those societies’ cultures more thoroughly than any insider could. Understanding this is important for all of the cultures of the North Sea, expressed through their outlaw traditions.118 Yet it is particularly acute for Anglo-Saxon literature given how many of its protagonists – outlaw or not – are travelers and therefore liminal. Having literally crossed boundaries, these figures transgress in other ways too. And by doing so, they establish through their adventures abroad a fuller understanding of Anglo-Saxon values as mediated through the metaphor of movement. As Jennifer Neville has observed, Anglo-Saxons conceived of boundary crossing as an act of def inition in their culture, ‘in opposition to those outside both their physical and social boundaries’.119 So it is that many of the journeys in Anglo-Saxon poetry are transformative to some degree, though the alterations in doxa they initiate manifest in multifarious ways. Travel which instigates a change of doxa in one’s self is but another mode of describing the rite de passage, and the transitions seen in Beowulf’s formative journeys or Guthlac’s life on the edge are examples of the same. Nebuchadnezzar, too, undergoes a transformation after God thrusts liminality onto him by morphing him into a beast of the field.120 Andreas, too, develops a new sense of self over the course of his journey to Mermedonia. In other instances, one’s journey serves as a catalyst to another’s dramatic change. Such is the logic of conversion narratives, as a necessary precondition to the change in religion in these stories is the arrival of the missionary. The hardships of the Apostles in Andreas and Fates of the Apostles succeed in transforming their destinations into Christian lands; if Elene had never arrived in Jerusalem to give Judas his harsh medicine, he never would have become Cyriacus. The empress’ expedition to the Holy Land has the additional effect of exposing the doxa of the Jewish society there. The audience sees the secret arrangement which makes their culture possible converted into orthodoxy as Judas explains 117 Anzaldúa, Borderlands/ La Frontera, pp. 60-61. 118 This was addressed in part on pp. 72-73. 119 Neville, ‘Monster and Criminal’, p. 117. 120 Daniel, ASPR 1, lines 598-674.


The Transgressive Hero

to his fellow Jews the conspiracy which had sustained their community without their knowing.121 Change in a people closely associated with their lands – as the Jews are with Israel or the Mermedonians with their island – blurs the distinction, perhaps, between the doxa of self and that of place. However, it is possible in Anglo-Saxon poetry for a place to be converted as well, as Guthlac A well shows. The beorg which he inhabits had initially been designated by God for the use of demons: earme ondsacan æfter tintergum ðonne hy of waþum restan ryneþragum; wæs him seo gelyfed

[Þ]ær hy bidinge æror mostum tidum brucan werge cwoman rowe gefegon; þurh lytel fæc.122

They enjoyed a respite there for a time, the wretched foes, [one] permitted to them earlier after their torments, when they, exhausted, came from their wanderings to rest for a moment, to luxuriate in repose – it was allowed by [God] for a small period.

Yet God had always intended for the demons to be rousted from their stronghold by a betre hyrde123 (a ‘better guardian’), and when Guthlac arrives at the beorg he briceþ what they had previously brucon.124 The demons claim that he has dispossessed them, but the site is no longer an appropriate place for their habitation. Once a haunt of demons and unsuitable for man, it is now a halig ham (‘holy dwelling-place’) and while they once occupied the setl (‘seat’) there, it was now Guthlac’s, leaving them to ‘sið tugon,/ wide waðe, wuldre byscyrede,/ lyftlacende’ (‘embark on a journey, roving widely, coursing through the air’).125 The polarity of doxa for both being and location is reversed here, as the previously itinerant saint settles down, and in doing so transforms a locus of evil into a beacon of holiness, and makes the previously sedentary demons wandering exiles once more. The inherent character of both person and place changes with a catalyzing change in movement. 121 Cynewulf, Elene, lines 417-546. 122 Guthlac A, lines 209b-214. 123 Guthlac A, lines 215-217. 124 He shatters what they had previously enjoyed. Guthlac A, lines 209a, 211b and 220b. 125 Guthlac A, lines 144-146a, 149 and 244b. Brady presents an alternate interpretation of the varying descriptions of the beorg in ‘Colonial Desire or Political Disengagement?’ pp. 68-72.



The prevalence of stories of travel and its effects on doxa in Anglo-Saxon literature in turn reveal more of that society’s stance towards the same. Guthlac broadly acts in imitation of Christ, who himself sanctified the unclean and transformed society through transgressive action.126 Additionally, however, the alteration of doxa of place in Guthlac A reflects actual practice in Anglo-Saxon England, where the previously revered graves of pagan notables came to be seen as sinister after the coming of Christianity, and were then reappropriated by building churches on top of them.127 The practice was endorsed, famously, by Pope Gregory I, who advised altering the doxa of pagan shrines by converting them into churches.128 Scholars also find it possible to explicate Anglo-Saxon culture through the journeys of individuals they read as symbolic, representing them as they either undertake journeys or are affected by visitors from abroad.129 To examine these works for lessons of conduct, however, any traveler can bear the necessary message; the question is, instead, as with ailithre or The Whale, whether those moving through the stories are traveling well or not. Those following the path of the outlaw either literally or thematically happen to bear the most potent lessons.

Transgression and Aglæcan To this point, there has been a discrepancy between the theoretical discussion of doxa and its incidence in Anglo-Saxon literature: that while Bourdieu and Cresswell observe that the violation of doxa is normally met with opprobrium, the examples given from Anglo-Saxon works cast those who transgress unambiguously as heroes. This is because in all these instances, the transgression is in favor of Anglo-Saxon values; the audiences of these works would welcome the demonic purged from the land, and Christianity brought to the Jew and the heathen. Yet as the danger of the outlaw indicates, transgression could occur unadvisedly, or with malicious intent. The epitome of aggressive, unwelcome transgression is Grendel, who invades Heorot and by doing so succeeds in altering its doxa. He is a liminal figure, an inhabitant of the fenlands like Guthlac or his demonic opponents – a 126 Dunning, Aliens and Sojourners, p. 56. 127 Blair, The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society, p. 466; and Semple, ‘Fear of the Past’, pp. 116-117. 128 Bede, Ecclesiastical History, pp. 106-109. 129 See, for example, Howe, Migration and Mythmaking in Anglo-Saxon England and Writing the Map of Anglo-Saxon England; Siewers, ‘Landscapes of Conversion’, pp. 1-39; and Blurton, Cannibalism in High Medieval English Literature, pp. 15-33.

The Transgressive Hero


mearcstapa.130 Marie Padgett Hamilton recommends a dual understanding of this word, so that Grendel is identified not only as a ‘patroller of the march’ (its literal translation) but also as a ‘transgressor’ or ‘trespasser’, one who disregards society’s bounds.131 He is, moreover, described as a wrecca like his progenitor Cain, as we have seen;132 additionally he hwyrftum scriþað (‘wanders restlessly’), like the damned souls in Christ and Satan.133 As a wrecca he is also solitary, an angenga (‘one who goes alone’), and foreign, an ellorgast134 (‘an alien being’). The audience experiences his crossing of boundaries in the description of his approach to Heorot with its repetition of the participle com, as he moves from the darkness, out of the mere, and up to the hall.135 The language of the poem in this moment when Grendel emerges from the wastes and approaches human habitation emphasizes this movement, as it is ‘dynamic and progressive. Each successive statement of Grendel’s oncoming represents an advance in time, in forward movement in emotional force’.136 Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe argues that as Grendel passes these thresholds, he is also going through an alteration in his own constitution, as he transitions from abstract malignancy into a physical threat the closer he comes to his target.137 In this way the poem’s elusive and indistinct description of Grendel138 contributes to the liminal nature of the creature, which in the absence of much else becomes one of his most salient attributes. Moreover, in his depredations, it is important to note that Grendel’s target, specifically, is a place, Heorot, rather than an individual or people. He kills Danes, certainly, but only when they sleep in the hall. When they move to the surrounding buildings, they are safe.139 Marie-Françoise Alamichel, taking her cue from Heorot’s name and the antlers that hang from its roof, describes the hall as Grendel’s prey; Joyce Tally Lionarons depicts it as a 130 Beowulf, lines 103-104 and 1348a; Lionarons, ‘Bodies, Buildings, and Boundaries’, p. 44; and Cardew, ‘Grendel: Bordering the Human’, pp. 189-192. 131 Hamilton, ‘The Religious Principle in Beowulf ’, p. 319, n. 67. 132 See p. 44. 133 Beowulf, lines 163a and 1352b; and Christ and Satan, ASPR 1, lines 120a, 187b and 257. A further correspondence is how both Grendel and Satan take the wræclastas, ‘the paths of exiles’. Orchard, Pride and Prodigies, pp. 58-85; and Hill, ‘“Hwyrftum Scriþað”’, pp. 379-381. 134 Beowulf, lines 165a , 449a, 897b and 1349a; and Halverson, ‘The World of Beowulf ’, pp. 599-600. 135 Beowulf, lines 702b-721a. 136 Brodeur, The Art of Beowulf, p. 91. 137 O’Keeffe, ‘Beowulf, Lines 702b-836’, p. 487. 138 Lapidge, ‘Beowulf and the Psychology of Terror’, pp. 373-402. 139 Beowulf, lines 138-143a; Halverson, ‘The World of Beowulf ’, pp. 600-602; and Irving, Rereading Beowulf, p. 139.



body being invaded by an alien object.140 Once inside, his reign of twelve years is marked by a complete reversion of the typical Anglo-Saxon ethos of the hall: gifts are not given, men are not brave, and a good king fails in the face of one of God’s most wretched creatures.141 In John Halverson’s words, Grendel ‘breaks down the doors to this little enclosed world, puts out the light, lets in the cold, and, himself the embodiment of chaos, presides in darkness over Heorot, the construct of order’.142 Grendel has completely upended the purpose of Heorot and made it no different from the dangerous world outside where he holds sway – it is now an ‘anti-hall’, as Kathryn Hume puts it.143 It is only until Beowulf reclaims the hall that its original doxa as a place for men and their normally-functioning society is restored.144 Yet Beowulf is only able to accomplish this reversion because he is himself a liminal figure. Son of an exile and raised (in part) abroad,145 he is a traveler and a visitor in Denmark, which means that the fate of the Danes’ hall is decided not by any native but by two foreigners whose ability to transgress empowers them to contend for it – among the Danes, even the king cannot match Grendel. Yet, as Frederick M. Biggs puts it, Beowulf, ‘like the problem Grendel presents Hrothgar, is a superlative’. 146 Beowulf can match the monster, and even exceed his ability, since he not only wounds Grendel and drives him from the hall, but later tracks him to his lair and lays claim to his head, defeating his mother in the monsters’ own territory. Beowulf’s capability in such adverse conditions – he is essentially fighting underwater with inadequate weaponry – is further evidence of his liminal nature as something intermediate between human and superhuman.147 Yet in seeking the confrontation in Grendel’s mere and prevailing, Beowulf is acting in imitation of his opponent’s earlier actions. Scholars have noted the extent 140 Alamichel, ‘Voyage dans les paysages du Beowulf ’, p. 98; and Lionarons, ‘Bodies, Buildings, and Boundaries’, p. 44. 141 Dragland, ‘Monster-Man in Beowulf ’, p. 608; O’Keeffe, ‘Beowulf, Lines 702b-836’, pp. 487-488 and 491-492; Robinson, ‘Why is Grendel’s Not Greeting the Gifstol a Wræc Micel?’ pp. 257-262; Lionarons, ‘Beowulf: Myth and Monsters’, pp. 7-8; Alamichel, ‘Voyage dans les paysages du Beowulf ’, pp. 91-92; Neville, ‘Monsters and Criminals’, pp. 112-118; and Michelet, Creation, Migration, and Conquest, p. 78. 142 Halverson, ‘The World of Beowulf ’, p. 602. 143 Hume, ‘The Concept of the Hall in Old English Poetry’, p. 68. 144 Alamichel, ‘Voyage dans les paysages du Beowulf ’, pp. 100-101. 145 Beowulf, lines 371-376 and 456-472. At age seven, however, Beowulf entered the household of his grandfather Hreðel, and so was raised among the Geats as well. Beowulf, lines 2428-2429. 146 Biggs, ‘The Naming of Beowulf and Ecgtheow’s Feud’, p. 96. 147 Though see Robinson’s reassessment of this moment and of Beowulf’s otherworldly nature in ‘Elements of the Marvellous in the Characterization of Beowulf’, pp. 121-124.

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to which the space in which Beowulf confronts Grendel’s Mother resembles Heorot in its description.148 Despite being the center of power for the inimical forces of the poem, like men’s halls it is roofed and lit, providing shelter from the elements outside.149 When he breaches the dwelling’s defenses and kills its ides150 (‘lady’), he alters its doxa by the same violent and deadly means as Grendel had Heorot, and with more finality. Multiple times Beowulf is described as having gefælsod (‘cleansed’) Heorot, but when he destroys the Grendelkin, it is said that ‘wæron yðgebland eal gefælsod’151 (‘the churning water was entirely cleansed’). He has eradicated, in their home, beings who had been a part of the landscape since far back in biblical history.152 If Grendel upsets the status quo between men and the outside world with his attack upon Heorot, Beowulf tips the balance irrevocably in the other direction with his assault against him and his mother. Responding to their complementary actions, many scholars have proposed an equivalence between Grendel and Beowulf.153 However, a mutual liminality that encourages a conflation between hero and monster is not restricted to this one poem. The shared language and imagery between Beowulf and Andreas has long been noted and its significance debated.154 Whatever the reason for the verbal echoes, one of the more unusual correspondences is how, for both the saint and Grendel, at their slightest touch the ‘duru sona onarn’ (‘the doors sprung open at once’) on their enemies’ 148 Irving, Rereading Beowulf, p. 150; and Michelet, Creation, Migration, and Conquest, pp. 82-87. The similarities are not as strong but still suggestive in the second half of the poem with the dragon’s barrow as well, as documented by Scherb, ‘Setting and Cultural Memory in Part II of Beowulf ’, pp. 109-119. 149 Beowulf, lines 1512b-1517. 150 Beowulf, line 1259a. 151 Beowulf, line 1620. References to Heorot being purified are at 432b, 825a, 1176b and 2352b. 152 Beowulf, lines 102-114. See also Siewers, ‘Landscapes of Conversion’, pp. 28-39; and Estes, Anglo-Saxon Literary Landscapes, p. 48. 153 Irving, A Reading of Beowulf, pp. 15-22; Bandy, ‘Cain, Grendel, and the Giants of Beowulf ’, pp. 235-249; Huffines, ‘OE āglǣce’, pp. 78-81; Dragland, ‘Monster-Man in Beowulf ’, pp. 606-618; O’Keeffe, ‘Beowulf, Lines 702b-836’, pp. 489-490; Lionarons, ‘Beowulf: Myth and Monsters’, pp. 1-14; and Estes, Anglo-Saxon Literary Landscapes, p. 51. Of course, a hero with monstrous attributes is a trope of Indo-European literature. Another figure to share this trait from the literature of the North Atlantic is Cúchulainn, as Ann Dooley has noted in Playing the Hero, p. 112. 154 Krapp, Introduction, ASPR 2, lv-lvii; Kennedy, The Earliest English Poetry, pp. 278-280; Peters, ‘The Relationship of the Old English Andreas to Beowulf ’, pp. 844-863; Brooks, Introduction, Andreas and The Fates of the Apostles, pp. xxii-xxvii; Schabram, ‘Andreas und Beowulf ’, pp. 201218; Hamilton, ‘Andreas and Beowulf: Placing the Hero’, pp. 81-98; Riedinger, ‘The Formulaic Relationship between Beowulf and Andreas’, pp. 283-313; and Herbison, ‘Generic Adaptation in Andreas’, pp. 181-211.



dwellings when they are attempting to enter.155 There is no way of knowing for certain whether the Andreas-poet knew Beowulf or was actively trying to reference it through his borrowings. If he was, then it should be asked what equivalence he was attempting to draw between a cannibalistic monster and the saintly opponent of a nation of cannibalistic monsters; if not, then it should be asked how this stock phrase applies equally to both. David Hamilton suggests that the relationship is meant to be ironic: ‘In Andreas […] collocations often invert the expectations that one infers from the evidence in Beowulf. One suspects then that the Andreas poet tries to create a different pattern of expectation and that he achieves this aim by deliberately thwarting traditional collocations’.156 Perhaps so, but unless the intent is to produce a complete non sequitur, then there must be some connection, however counterintuitive, between the saint and the monster. In this moment both figures are invaders, but more specifically, both are invaders with the intention of violating the doxa of their targets. Grendel despises the hall and the conventions of its inhabitants; in Andreas, the saint faces an entire nation of Grendels and seeks to convert them from their cannibalism to Christianity. Marie Nelson sees Andreas’ mission as one of ‘benign aggression’,157 but that characterization is all a matter of perspective. If one reads the poem ‘contrapuntually’, as Heather Blurton advocates,158 and takes into account the perspective of the Mermedonians, he is the monster, arriving with his alien ideals and prepared to impose them upon them by force.159 Andreas opposes the central tenets of Mermedonian society just as fervently as Grendel despises those of the Danes, and like Grendel is intent on transforming them through invasion. Transgression is a common denominator throughout most of Anglo-Saxon literature, both positive and negative, and the ambiguity of the action is its most prevalent feature throughout. The challenge is expressed well in the confusion surrounding the word aglæca and the individuals it describes. Its possible meanings have generated much discussion,160 given its apparent 155 Beowulf, line 721b; and Andreas, line 999b. 156 Hamilton, ‘Andreas and Beowulf: Placing the Hero’, p. 86. 157 Nelson, ‘The Old English Andreas as an Account of Benign Aggression’, pp. 81-89. 158 Blurton, Cannibalism in High Medieval English Literature, p. 18. The idea and practice of contrapuntal reading is introduced by Said in Culture and Imperialism, pp. 66-67. 159 Joseph Nagy makes a similar point about Patrick in Conversing with Angels and Ancients, p. 45. 160 Lotspeich, ‘Old English Etymologies’, p. 1; Mezger, ‘Goth. Aglaiti “Unchastity”, OE Aglæc “Distress”’, pp. 66-71; Gillam, ‘The Use of the Term “Æglæca” in Beowulf at Lines 893 and 2592’, pp. 145-169; Huffines, ‘OE āglǣce’, pp. 71-81; Kuhn, ‘Old English Aglǣca – Middle Irish Oclach’, pp. 213-230; Olsen, ‘The Aglæca and the Law’, pp. 66-68; Nicholls, ‘Bede “Awe-Inspiring”, Not

The Transgressive Hero


suitability (in what context is unknown) for figures both admirable and evil. It is definitely most often used to designate monsters and fiends – the three antagonists in Beowulf, Satan, various demons, Andreas’ Mermedonians, and the Whale (which typifies the Devil) are all designated aglæcan.161 Yet the term is also applied to heroic individuals such as Sigemund, Beowulf, and Andreas;162 most confoundingly, in its only appearance in Anglo-Saxon prose, it is used to describe the Venerable Bede as se æglæca lareow163 (‘the aglæca educator’). The challenge, therefore, in understanding this word is in determining a definition broad enough to encompass such a wide variety of subjects while still capturing its precise meaning. As to its actual denotation there is nothing here to add, save to point out that one of the more popular interpretations for its latter element is that it comes from the verb lacan (‘to swing’, ‘to play’), which ties its meaning to an act of motion.164 However, in its connotation, both Marion Lois Huffines and Alexandra Hennessey Olsen have noted the word’s tendency to describe one who ‘invades and ravages in the domain of his adversary’.165 The aglæca, then, is one who transgresses, who violates boundaries and/or upsets the doxa of place. Grendel and his mother are aglæcan because of their depredations upon Heorot and the disorder this causes, and Beowulf is one as well due to his commensurate action in their own hall. When the older Beowulf faces the dragon – and this is the moment when he is himself called an aglæca along with his opponent166 – both combatants had by this point invaded each other’s realm. Demons are themselves visitors to the mortal plane, but they are aglæcan additionally in their attempts to subvert human society along the same lines as Grendel. Andreas, too, is just as intent to effect societal change; to the devils who declare him an aglæca, he is just as monstrous and dangerous to their principles and practices as demons are to humankind.167 When the Mermedonians, too, are described as aglæcan, it is at a moment when they are acting against the standards of their society, driven by hunger to eat one of their own when they normally “Monstrous”: Some Problems with Old English Aglæca’, pp. 147-148; and Orchard, Pride and Prodigies, p. 33. 161 Beowulf, lines 159a, 425a, 433a, 592a, 646b, 732a, 739a, 816a, 989b, 1000b, 1259a, 1269a, 2520a, 2534a, 2557a, 2592a and 2905a; Cynewulf, Juliana, ASPR 3, lines 268b, 319a and 430a; Cynewulf, Elene, line 901a; Andreas, lines 1131b and 1312a; Guthlac A, line 575a; Christ and Satan, lines 73a, 160a, 446a, 578a and 712a; and The Whale, ASPR 3, line 52a. 162 Beowulf, lines 893a and 2592a; and Andreas, line 1359a. 163 Byrhtferth’s Manual, p. 74. 164 Lotspeich, ‘Old English Etymologies’, p. 1. 165 Olsen, ‘The Aglæca and the Law’, pp. 66-67; also Huffines, ‘OE āglǣce’, p. 80. 166 Beowulf, line 2592a. 167 Andreas, lines 1358b-1359; and Gillam, ‘The Use of the Term “Æglæca”’, p. 164.



consume only foreigners.168 Bede is an aglæca because he is ground-breaking, his erudition far-ranging. And the Whale most completely subverts a sense of place, presenting the image of one type of location (an island) and suggesting everything associated with it (dry and stable land, shelter, rest), only to upend that expectation and reveal the opposite as reality.

Conduct and the Outlaw Transgression occurs outside of any incidence of the term aglæca, of course – Guthlac’s efforts upon the beorg, Elene’s in Jerusalem, and Daniel’s in Babylon are also acts of transgression, which all take place without the label being applied. Yet the confusion over aglæca underlines the challenge of deriving lessons of conduct from the narratives of Anglo-Saxon literature. If transgression itself is morally neutral, how is one meant to delineate between proper conduct and bad? The effective similarity between both can be seen if one compares Guthlac’s battle on the beorg to the final stand of the outlaw hero Grettir the Strong from Icelandic literature. Many scholars have noted Grettir’s similarities to the monsters he fights, most especially in the last years of his life when he holes up on the island of Drangey to evade capture as an outlaw.169 Drangey previously had been used by the locals to pasture their sheep and forage for food, and when Grettir arrives he requisitions this all for his own use, throwing the local economy into turmoil.170 In doing so, he is now no different from the beasts he had vanquished in his youth, who had likewise laid waste to the areas they haunted.171 Grettir’s journey from monster-slayer to monster himself is an ironic and tragic end for a saga of one of Iceland’s most troubled heroes. However, in principle, it is little different from Guthlac’s appropriation of the demon’s beorg. From the fiends’ perspective, cwædon þæt him Guðlac earfeþa mæst siþþan he for wlence beorgas bræce;

eac Gode sylfum ana gefremede, on westenne þær hy bidinge[.]172

168 Andreas, lines 1093-1134. 169 Ciklamini, ‘Grettir and Ketill Hængr, the Giant-Killers’, pp. 136-155; Arent, ‘The Heroic Pattern’, pp. 184-186; Harris, ‘The Deaths of Grettir and Grendel’, pp. 25-53; and Orchard, Pride and Prodigies, pp. 164-168. 170 Örnólfur Thorsson, The Saga of Grettir the Strong, p. 218 (n. 76). 171 Grettis saga, pp. 57, 74 and 115-116. 172 Guthlac A, lines 206-209.

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They said that, besides God himself, Guthlac alone perpetrated the greatest evil against them, once he for pride broke open the barrow in the wilderness where they enjoyed a respite.

Guthlac’s actions are just as much of a dispossession as Grettir’s. Of course, as demons, the evicted beings in Guthlac’s story elicit little sympathy.173 However, in arguments wherein the demons are read as analogues for the Britons and Guthlac’s move against them as symbolic of the conflict between the Anglo-Saxons and the British,174 consideration changes. If Guthlac’s exploits are read as a colonialist narrative, then he has far less inherent claim to the beorg than may otherwise be accepted. And if the demons are right, and he does it solely for wlenc175 (‘pride’)? They say of him, ‘No we oferhygdu anes monnes/ geond middangeard maran fundon’176 (‘we could not find a more overweening man throughout the earth’). If this is the case, then Guthlac is no better than Grettir, whose stubbornness and arrogance are what led him to his outlawry and to Drangey in the first place.177 It is especially important to challenge one’s moral interpretation of such stories, because in casting outlaws such as Guthlac or Grettir as potential heroes, these works are asking their audiences to find virtue in figures popularly understood as sinful or dangerous – the liminal, the banished, the violent. Delineating between an outlaw rightly condemned as a criminal or one unfairly convicted and forced into dire straits (like Grettir) is a subtle matter, as is distinguishing between a fraud and a reformed outlaw who now uses the expertise and connections of his prior life to advance God’s cause (like Guthlac). In embracing the liminal so as to effect positive change, one must be careful not to countenance all forms of transgression. By what principles was it meant to be accepted in the literature? What type of aglæca confronts the reader in any given case? The invocation of Pride points the way towards determining the rightness of course for the figures within the Anglo-Saxon corpus. As with The Whale, 173 The competing claims to the beorg are given a thorough examination in Brady, ‘Colonial Desire or Political Disengagement?’ pp. 65-68. 174 Smyth, ‘The Emergence of English Identity’, pp. 31-32; Siewers, ‘Landscapes of Conversion’, pp. 8-16; Cohen, Medieval Identity Machines, pp. 142-146; and Estes, Anglo-Saxon Literary Landscapes, pp. 107-111. For a recent argument against this interpretation, at least in Guthlac A, see Brady, ‘Colonial Desire or Political Disengagement?’ pp. 72-73. 175 Guthlac A, line 208a. 176 Guthlac A, lines 269-270. 177 Grettir’s story as a cautionary tale against Pride is the primary reading of Orchard, Pride and Prodigies, pp. 140-168.



discretio spirituum is the tool by which one delineates good conduct from bad. The importance of cultivating such a sense is apparent in a number of Anglo-Saxon works which raise thorny issues concerning proper action. The most elaborate mediation on discretio spirituum is found in the Guthlac tradition – a situation to be expected, given its deep debt to the Desert Fathers.178 The most basic principles of the concept are expressed by both the prose and poetic forms of Guthlac’s story, from the earliest Christian literature. In Guthlac A, in the saint’s youth, weardas wacedon engel dryhtnes nalæs hy him gelice in his modes gemynd oþer him þas eorþan læne under lyfte herede on heofonum salwa gesittað dryhtnes dreamas […] […] oþer hyne scyhte nihtes sohte wunne æfter worulde þa þe ne bimurnað þæs þe him to honda butan hy þy reafe

hine twegen ymb þa gewin drugon – 7 se atela gæst; lare bæron mongum tidum; ealle sægde 7 þa longan god þær haligra in sigorwuldre þæt he sceaðena gemot 7 þurh neþinge swa doð wræcmæcgas monnes feore huþe gelædeð rædan motan.179

two guides about him who persisted in their conflict kept watch – an angel of the Lord and an evil spirit. Many times in the urges of his mind they gave him contradictory advice. One told him that this world under the heavens was but fleeting, and extolled the continual excellence of heaven where blessed souls live in joy within the triumphant glory of the Lord […] The other instigated him so that he sought the company of nighttime criminals, and as wretches do pursued things of the world through audacious action, so that he cared not for the life of a man who brought plunder into their clutches, so long as they could take away the booty.

178 Kurtz, ‘From St. Antony to St. Guthlac’, pp. 103-146. 179 Guthlac A, lines 114b-123a and 127-132.

The Transgressive Hero


The trope is descended from The Shephard of Hermas, the first elaboration on discretio in Christian letters.180 Herein, it is explained A person has two angels, one of righteousness and the other of wickedness […] The angel of righteousness is sensitive, modest, meek, and mild. And so, when he rises up in your heart, he immediately speaks with you about righteousness, purity, reverence, contentment, every upright deed, and every glorious virtue. When all these things rise up in your heart, realize that the angel of righteousness is with you. These are the works of the angel of righteousness. Trust this one, therefore, and his works. See now also the works of the angel of wickedness. First of all, he is irascible, bitter, and senseless, and his works are wicked, bringing ruin on the slaves of God. And so, when this one rises up in your heart, recognize him from his works […] When any irascibility or bitterness should fall on you, realize that he is in you. Then there is desire for many activities and numerous extravagant foods and drinking bouts and many wild parties and various completely unnecessary luxuries, and desires for women and greed and a certain great haughtiness and arrogance, and everything that is closely connected to these things. And so, when these things rise up in your heart, realize that the angel of wickedness is in you.181

It is here that the notion of recognizing the origin and legitimacy of one’s urges was first outlined in Christian thought. In its broad adoption of this trope, Guthlac A raises the issue of discretio as the core tenet of its subject’s life, as the struggle between the two spirits defines the two phases of his life, with the pivotal moment coming when he learns, with God’s help, to discern correctly.182 There are other references to discretio in Guthlac A, ones which have thematic counterparts within Felix’s vita of the saint. In this case, however, Hermas is not the ultimate source but rather Cassian. This means, of course, that it relies on metaphors of conduct, with Guthlac shown taking the via regia between the two extremes of overzealousness and laxity. In both works, the demons try tempting Guthlac psychologically before beginning a physical assault upon him. In Felix, the first sally against him is an attempt by the Devil to make him lose hope, militarized into an assassination 180 See Brady, ‘Colonial Desire or Political Disengagement?’ p. 76; and Sources of Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture, pp. 63-65. 181 The Shepherd of Hermas, pp. 262-267. 182 Guthlac A, lines 133-140a.



plot wherein Satan shoots a veneniflua desperationis sagitta (‘a poisoned arrow of despair’) right into his head. The poison has its desired effect, until Guthlac calls upon the Lord and is saved by the intervention of St. Bartholomew.183 The next ploy involves two demons who approach Guthlac under the pretense of a truce. Saying that he had defeated him, they offer to instruct him in fasting as a gesture of goodwill. The fast they propose, supposedly modeled after the practices of the Egyptians, is seven days in length. When he hears this Guthlac realizes the ruse, dismisses them, and sits down to eat.184 This episode is understood as an attempt to lure Guthlac into vanity, to incite him towards a mode of conduct that he could never hope to keep up, therein laying the groundwork for his eventual failure. As such it conveys the same lesson as Cassian’s cautionary tale of Heron, goaded into arrogance and made the author of his own destruction through pride in his own virtue.185 These two episodes in Felix are derived from the Vita of St. Antony,186 and their effect, when placed side-by-side, echoes its lesson and that of Cassian as well: together they propose a strong case for moderation. Guthlac succeeds by adhering to the via regia, refusing to flag neither through a laxity brought on by despair, nor an overzealous rigidity encouraged by pride. This reading of the two events was first noted by Thomas D. Hill, who observes the same juxtaposition occurring with the ‘two major assaults’ upon the saint in Guthlac A. The first temptation brought upon Guthlac here is the moment when the demons raise him aloft and show him the sins of young monks, which Guthlac refuses to condemn.187 The second is when he is dragged to Hell and threatened, which he again resists with the help of God and Bartholomew.188 Hill interprets this pair of actions as an attempt by the demons to subject Guthlac to idel wuldor (vainglory) and egesa (terror), mentioned as the twin dangers for the ascetic at the outset of the poem.189 The two impulses are connected with the sins of pride and despair as discussed in the Egyptian sources. It was a particular concern among the Desert Fathers not to grow too austere in fasting, a worry which was passed on to their spiritual heirs in Ireland and 183 Felix, Felix’s Life of St. Guthlac, pp. 94-99. Cf. Das angelsächsische Prosa-Leben des hl. Guthlac, pp. 119-122. 184 Felix, Felix’s Life of St. Guthlac, pp. 98-101. Cf. Das angelsächsische Prosa-Leben des hl. Guthlac, pp. 123-127. 185 John Cassian, Collationes, pp. 44-45. 186 Kurtz, ‘From St. Antony to St. Guthlac’, pp. 108-116. 187 Guthlac A, lines 412-512. 188 Guthlac A, lines 552-733a. 189 Guthlac A, lines 81-88a; and Hill, ‘The Middle Way’, pp. 182-187.

The Transgressive Hero


Britain.190 In its allusions to the problem, and in advocating moderation through its protagonist’s action, the Guthlac tradition is responding to a practical concern of the eremitic life by proposing the traditional solution: proper conduct as determined by discretio spirituum. Discretio as the governor of conduct is a principle found in multiple places in Anglo-Saxon literature, and it informs theory on social behavior even today. Bourdieu has adopted the concept, and sees discretio as crucial in the enforcement of doxa. In Bourdieu’s construction, discretio operates in the social sphere to ‘séparer et réunir ce qui doit l’être, à exclure toutes les misalliances et toutes les unions contre nature, c’est-à-dire contraires au classement commun, à la diacrisis qui est au principe de l’identité collective et individuelle’191 (‘segregate and bring together that which must, to proscribe all misalliances and all unions against nature – that is to say contrary to common categorization, for the diacrisis [separation] which is the foundation of collective and individual identity’). Bourdieu’s discretio is a social instinct, one which functions to keep individuals within their boundaries, and as such it would appear to be the enemy of the transgressive impulse. Yet it is here that the peculiar relativity of so much of Anglo-Saxon literature comes into play. As Nicholas Howe has noted, most of the stories of the Anglo-Saxons are of different times and different cultures.192 Consequently, their sense of discretio allows them to support acts of transgression against the cornerstones of the societies featured within without challenging their own. An easy understanding of Anglo-Saxon and/or Christian values can guide one towards correctly distinguishing the good conduct from the bad in most of these narratives. Of course they will oppose demons, monsters and cannibals, the enemies of saints or the Christian religion. Given the general anti-British attitude imputed to the Anglo-Saxons,193 it is also reasonable to assume that Guthlac is meant to be a hero, even if his demons are stand-ins for the Britons. The same may be said about Andreas’ extreme actions against the Mermedonians or Elene’s against the Jews. However, it would be wrong to conclude that the lesson of discretio is entirely banal, the theological equivalent of the attractive and normative always signifying virtue on account of their very beauty and normativity. 190 The long history of this injunction and its importance in early Christian asceticism in both North Africa and the British Isles is thoroughly outlined by Sarah Downey in ‘Too Much of Too Little’, pp. 89-127. 191 Bourdieu, La Distinction, p. 553. 192 Howe, Writing the Map of Anglo-Saxon England, pp. 154-155. 193 See, for example, Bede, Ecclesiastical History, pp. 136-143; and Smyth, ‘The Emergence of English Identity’, pp. 30-32.



As this chapter has shown, many of the heroes of Anglo-Saxon literature, such as Beowulf and Guthlac, share qualities with the same types of beings they oppose. Moreover, as The Whale warns, very often demons – and the impulses they arouse – carry a false flag.194 Devils approach both Guthlac and Juliana in other guises; 195 it is their caution and distrust of their own perception, their reliance on God over their senses that allows them to correctly delineate the evil from the good. The matter is even more difficult when discerning not demons but rather emotions or motivations – or perhaps the emotions or motivations those monsters represent. Beowulf, for example, is a text concerned with discretio, as it tells its audience, ‘bið andgit æghwær selest/ ferhðes foreþanc’196 (‘discernment, the mind’s foresight, is always best’). Applying such a talent to the story, however, is no easy matter, as one of the most enduring disputes in the history of scholarship on the poem is rooted in the quality the hero’s discretio: are Beowulf’s instincts sound when he decides to face the dragon alone? Is it to his credit that his prevailing characteristic is that he was lofgeornost (‘most eager for fame’)?197 The diff iculty in determining an answer redounds upon the audience, and calls their own discretio into question. The liminal figure, then, was extremely difficult for the Anglo-Saxons to approach, since the moral ambivalence in which he or she was held reflected a similar ambiguity within those who considered him or her. By incorporating elements of the foreign into their identities and simultaneously claiming connection to their home societies, they threaten the boundary between the two. This is the case even if the ‘others’ are monsters, a circumstance which makes the situation even more menacing. Consider William Scott Green’s example of men who are ‘crocodiles’:

194 The Whale, lines 32-37. 195 Felix, Felix’s Life of St. Guthlac, pp. 108-111; Das angelsächsische Prosa-Leben des hl. Guthlac, pp. 135-137; and Cynewulf, Juliana, lines 242b-288. 196 Beowulf, lines 1059-1060a. 197 The scholarship on these questions is vast, but important contributions include Tolkien, ‘The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son’, pp. 13-16; Stanley, ‘Hæthenra Hyht in Beowulf ’, pp. 136-151; Leyerle, ‘Beowulf the Hero and the King’, pp. 89-102; Goldsmith, The Mode and Meaning of ‘Beowulf ’, pp. 223-241; Robinson, ‘Lexicography and Literary Criticism’, pp. 101-102; Horgan, ‘Religious Attitudes in Beowulf ’, pp. 14-17; Richards, ‘A Reexamination of Beowulf ll. 3180-3182’, pp. 163-167; Frank, ‘Old Norse Memorial Eulogies and the Ending of Beowulf ’, pp. 12-14; Busse and Holtei, ‘Beowulf and the Tenth Century’, pp. 292-298; Frank, ‘Skaldic Verse and the Date of Beowulf ’, p. 135; Riley, ‘Beowulf, Lines 3180-82’, pp. 2-3; and Clark, ‘Beowulf: The Last Word’, pp. 15-30.

The Transgressive Hero


A society does not simply discover its others, it fabricates them by selecting, isolating, and emphasizing an aspect of another people’s life and making it symbolize their difference. To evoke the significant disparity of which otherness is composed, the symbol must correspond powerfully to the naming society’s sense of its own distinctiveness. In the terms of our example, ‘crocodile’ is not, and cannot be, a neutral or arbitrary label. To be revealing and meaningful, it must reach inside the culture of the people who employ it, correlate to some piece of themselves that they believe prominently displays who they are, and induce response, perhaps fear or disgust, but also perhaps envy or respect. The construction of a theory of the other thus involves a double metonymy and a double distortion. In creating its others, a society confuses some part of its neighbor with its neighbor, and a piece of itself with itself, and confuses each in terms of the other. Although designed to mark and certify divergence and discontinuity, such correspondences can forge enduring reciprocal patterns of the inside and outside. They can reshape the naming society’s picture of itself, expose its points of vulnerability, and spark in it awareness of, or reflection about, the possibility or the reality of otherness within. The boastful proposition, ‘we are men and they are crocodiles’ implies that ‘we were, or could have been, or might yet be crocodiles too’.198

Distinction is therefore a type of self-assurance, and the more dire the distinction the more needful is it that a society deny that part of itself. Yet in Green’s reading the creation of the monster-f igure is as good as a confession. And a term such as aglæca, so widely applicable, is an acknowledgment of this possibility in Anglo-Saxon literature – and it stood as a challenge to contemporary audiences just as it is to readers today. Distinguishing among transient figures – with their varieties of existence, subtle indications of meaning and variations in authors’ understanding of their terms – tested even the most diligent observer’s ability to discern good from evil. Outlaws and those like them are therefore effective moral exemplars, reflecting the complexity and challenge of moral living in reality; yet it also makes them intimidating f igures, symbolizing both the danger and promise of the foreign and the diff iculty in navigating life successfully. Beowulf and Grendel, ascetic and outlaw – these represent not so much sides of the same coin but rather ends of a continuum, wherein the qualities of each extreme bleed into the other, resulting 198 Green, ‘Otherness Within’, p. 50. See also Lavezzo, Angels on the Edge of the World, p. 13.



in the contradictions inherent to the liminality such beings represent. Determining where any one of their kind belongs along that line is the central dilemma of evaluating his or her worth in Anglo-Saxon literature, just as determining how best to conduct oneself is the central question of life.


Cultural Exchange at the Boundaries of the Far North

Outlaws and Transculturalism An obvious aspect of liminality in its physical form – the state of residing on boundaries – is its proximity to the foreign. Moving between polities naturally brings one into contact with the inhabitants of both. We have already seen how Guthlac’s time as an outlaw placed him closer to the British territories and into the association of British peoples,1 and if the site of his hermitage, between Mercia and East Anglia, seems less diverse to us, that likely has more to do with modern ideas of ethnicity rather than medieval notions of difference.2 The people moving through the early medieval North Atlantic negotiated a patchwork of kingdoms, particularly in Britain and Ireland, whose divisions represented more than just politics. Wider travels, however, undoubtedly put the itinerant into contact with a greater variety of peoples and cultures. The Norse, both historically and in the Icelandic sagas, are unmatched in this regard, as their voyages brought them from Scandinavia to locations as diverse as Iberia, America, Novgorod, and Constantinople. The individuals at the vanguard of these explorations were adventurers and frequently outlaws; a prominent example is Eírik the Red, whose expulsion from Iceland led to his discovery of Greenland and laid the groundwork for his son Leif’s journey to Vínland.3 The reality of outlaws’ existence on the border means that their stories often function as depictions of what Mary Louise Pratt has called ‘contact zones’ – ‘social spaces where disparate cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in highly asymmetrical relations of domination and insubordination’.4 As she notes, the spaces in which such interaction occurs can vary quite a bit in type. For early medieval outlaws, it is worth pointing out that the contact zones encountered in the texts do not conform in most cases to the modern colonial examples Pratt works with. Instead, outlaw space is more like the borderlands described by Gloria Anzaldúa – areas between cultures, often divided politically, in which one culture and/or 1 2 3 4

See pp. 145-146. For medieval views on ethnic difference, see Bartlett, The Making of Europe, pp. 197-242. Eiríks saga rauða, p. 198. Pratt, Imperial Eyes, p. 4.



polity has hegemony over the others. Historians and archaeologists studying the early Middle Ages employ the term emporium to identify some of these spaces, where diversity was a consequence of trade.5 The creation of what one might deem an emporium is a bit of a chicken-and-egg proposition – the mixture of cultures which one finds on the border encourages trade, while increased trade attracts further diversity. One finds a similar self-sustaining phenomenon in the construction of outlaw space. Societies’ undesirables are pushed to the margins, where they encounter new cultures; however, since those who are undesirable are so often those who are different, then the act of expelling them increases the diversity of the space.

Encountering Others in Norse Saga and Belief The literature which offers the most evidence of cultural contact on the margins is, unsurprisingly, those of the Icelandic sagas. Both the breadth of their peoples’ travels and that of their corpus guarantees this. The adventures of the sagas’ protagonists abroad, however, are also a good example of the wide application of outlaw tropes outside of stories of actual outlaws. For this reason, in this chapter we will be looking not so much at men formally declared outlaws, but rather those who, as we examined in Chapter 1, behave as outlaws and follow their paths. In an Icelandic context, and for the purposes of our study here, this primarily means someone who, in imitation of the sentence of fjörbaugsgarðr or ‘lesser outlawry’, spends his formative years out on the margins, in areas where the Norse are not the majority, even if they may hold political sway over the region.6 This can include such saga heroes as Egil Skalla-Grímsson, Óláf Peacock, Hallfreð Troublesome-Poet, and others, who were never outlaws but still took exilic journeys at points in their youth, engaging with non-Norse cultures to their own personal benefit. As we have noted before,7 these adventures operate as informal rites de passage, marking the transition between childhood and maturity while also providing the subject with the trappings of adulthood, some of which can only be provided by liminal space by liminal people. This is why youths take on, for however brief a period, the guise of the outlaw, 5 Polanyi, ‘Ports of trade in early societies’, p. 30; Hodges, Towns and Trade in the Age of Charlemagne, pp. 69-92; Loveluck, ‘Central-places, Exchange and Maritime-Oriented Identity around the North Sea and Western Baltic’, pp. 123-25. 6 For Icelandic outlawry in general, see Amory, ‘The Medieval Icelandic Outlaw’, pp. 189-203; for its form of pseudo-outlawry, see Poilvez, ‘Access to the Margins’, pp. 115-136. 7 See pp. 55-58.

Cultural Exchange at the Boundaries of the Far North


and why such actions so frequently involve the foreign, as the liminal is so often quite literally the gateway to the wider world. Such movements are not solely to the benefit of those who perform them, however; the expertise and innovations they carry back with them enrich their communities as well. The anthropologist James Clifford argues that the impact of those crossing borders is ‘constitutive’ of culture – that societies compose themselves out of physical and conceptual imports brought to them by their more itinerant members.8 A culture in this reading is defined by all those with which it engages – either by defining itself against its neighbors, or by combining the qualities of the peoples surrounding it in some distinct configuration. For this reason, engagement with the foreign, and the crossing of the liminal, is necessary for cultural cohesion. This engagement can take any number of forms, from commerce to war to marriage alliances to cultural expropriation, but it must occur. And again, Icelandic literature is a useful vehicle through which to examine this process at work, not only because of its extensive engagement with foreign cultures, but also the degree to which it acknowledges the process at work. The sagas, with their reverence for the ancestry of their heroes, demonstrate the multicultural roots of Norse (and especially Icelandic) identity; moreover, they are also open about how the encounters of the past – either in heritage passed down or in items and skills bequeathed or stolen – give protagonists the abilities necessary to succeed in their own days. Additionally, the dependency acknowledged in Icelandic saga finds its parallel in Norse myth, where the gods, particularly the Æsir, owe an enormous proportion of their success to the labors of other cultures in their cosmography, and to the gods’ willingness to engage with them. To be sure, many of the relationships depicted in these pieces are exploitative, casting the idea of ‘engaging’ culture in the context of colonialism, or raiding. In the case of the non-Norse culture that we will be considering most extensively, that of the Finnar, the political reality of nearly every encounter is one in which the Norse have the advantage in terms of cultural hegemony, or political power, or simple technology. Whatever benefits are perceived as being held on the other side are ones that are either abstract forms of capital or abilities such as magic that do not figure into an empirical historical view of this place or period. The same basic inequality is the case in the gods’ dealings with other mythological peoples as well. But our sources also include instances in which these political realities are the backdrop for much more egalitarian interactions, particularly in stories which result in children of mixed heritage. Here, frequently, the process of cultural exchange takes 8 Clifford, Routes, p. 3.



the form of love and marriage, and of the passing down of heirlooms from one generation to the next. The ideas and items that constitute a culture come from a number of sources and a multiplicity of motives, and one of the strengths of Icelandic literature for our purpose here is in how frankly (if not always fairly) it depicts such exchange in all its forms.

The Finnar, the Norse, and those in Between The term Finnar (sg. Finnr) in Old Norse refers to the ancestors of the modern Finns and Sámi, the Finno-Ugric peoples who shared the Scandinavian peninsula with the Norse. While there were (and are) important cultural and linguistic differences between the Sámi and Finns, the Norse appear to have made no distinction between them. Additionally, the word Bjarmar was frequently employed to describe Finnic peoples living in Karelia and the areas east of the White Sea (‘Bjarmaland’), a similar catchall term for the variety of groups historically found in the region. While these two designations suggest a neat geographical division, there is no firm distinction between the Finnar and the Bjarmar; what is meant specifically by both terms appears to vary from source to source.9 For this reason I will use the word Finnar to describe any Finnic peoples encountered in Norse sources, particularly because no matter what their region or name, both the Finnar and Bjarmar hold the same connotations in Icelandic literature. Both are associated with regions colder and wilder than the settlements of the Norse, the frigid north of the Scandinavian Peninsula or the forested interior to the east. The denizens of these regions, accordingly, are typically depicted as primitives, living in reduced circumstances, possessing animalistic attributes, and employing sorcery rather than practical means to survive in their environments or defend themselves against intruders. The Finnar are frequently villains in the sagas, but even if they hold no animosity in any given appearance, their presence always bodes ill.10 The Finnar are important in that they are the first ethnic others encountered by the Norse in recorded history, in their ancestral home of Scandinavia before the Vikings set out and came into contact with all of the cultural variety that Europe and the North Atlantic littoral had to offer. Their 9 Mundal, ‘The Perception of the Saamis’, pp. 98 and 107; and DeAngelo, ‘The North and the Depiction of the Finnar’, pp. 262-263. 10 Hermann Pálsson, Úr landnorðri, pp. 23-27; Cardew, ‘Mannfögnuður er Oss at Smjöri Þessu’, pp. 151-152; and DeAngelo, ‘The North and the Depiction of the Finnar’, pp. 263-265 and 270-276.

Cultural Exchange at the Boundaries of the Far North


interactions with the Finnar therefore are formative for the Norse, and they often based their depictions of other exotic groups such as Native Americans and their approaches to them off of their prior experiences with the Finnar.11 This might also partly explain why the Finnar retain such a prominent place in Norse literature, which, being written largely in Iceland, was produced where no Sámi or Finns lived (the same is also true for Denmark). The Icelandic sources give the impression of strict divisions between Norse and Finnar societies and peoples in Scandinavia, but this was not the case; there was, historically, extensive co-settlement and interaction between them all, and often little practical difference in their ways of life.12 Nevertheless, most of this activity occurred on the boundaries between both peoples’ regions, making the Finnar, and those who associated with them, liminal in the worldview of the Norse. A good example of this tendency can be seen in the sagas’ depiction of Halogaland, a region of northern Scandinavia identified as part of the Kingdom of Norway and of the Norse cultural sphere. It was understood as a march, however, between Norway and the territory of the Sámi, with a substantial population of Finnar within it. Halogalanders are as a consequence frequently depicted as tainted by the association, given to rebellion and paganism due to the foreign influence present on the border.13 As a people found on the margins of Norse society, the Finnar are frequently depicted as liminal in more conceptual ways as well. They stand between humanity and nature, civilization and savagery, the world as we know it and the supernatural. Crossing into the territory of the Finnar in the sagas is usually the sign that one has left human habitation, as the Finnar were very frequently imagined as beings of the forest edge.14 Likewise, going into the realms of the Finnar was often much like entering the síd in Irish literature, in that both are places where the normal rules of reality do not apply, regions of magic and suspended disbelief where the earthly mingles with the spiritual. Most prominent is how the Finnar so often confuse the human with the animal. They frequently display bestial features or transform fully into other species.15 In Icelandic sagas, the intersection of 11 Sayers, ‘Psychological Warfare in Vinland’, p. 258; and DeAngelo, ‘The North and the Depiction of the Finnar’, p. 277. 12 Mundal, ‘The Perception of the Saamis’, pp. 99-101. 13 DeAngelo, ‘The North and the Depiction of the Finnar’, pp. 265-266. 14 A good example of this presumption can be found in Heimskringla, where the king of the Finnar will only come to the gate of the settlement to meet with Harald Fair-Hair and, after that, Harald has to come to him. Snorri Sturluson, Heimskringla, I, pp. 125-127. 15 For examples, see Sturlaugs saga starfsama, pp. 127-128; and Hálfdanar saga Eysteinssonar, pp. 275-6.



the supernatural and the inhuman found expression in the figure of the troll (pl. troll), or, more rarely, the jötunn (‘giant’, pl. jötnar).16 Ármann Jakobsson makes the crucial observation that the Norse term troll is thoroughly – and perhaps purposefully – vague, in many cases expressing nothing more definite than a general implication of the paranormal and the sinister.17 Yet in settings and situations in which characters interact with the Finnar, troll takes on a decidedly ethnic connotation. Finnar can be described as troll, or depicted in much the same ways. Both Finnar and troll are associated with paganism, hostility, wild nature, and the earth. In many contexts in the sagas, as Halvdan Koht has argued, Finnar and troll are virtual synonyms.18 Given these prejudices, what did interaction between the Norse and the Finnar look like? Egils saga Skallagrímssonar describes a situation which may contain some historical accuracy. In the saga, Egil’s uncle Þórólf becomes a landholder in Halogaland under King Harald Fair-Hair. Part of his duties to the king include collecting tribute from the Finnar ‘á fjall’ (‘in the mountains’). He does this with a large force of fighters, and also brings goods for trade. He is able to accomplish all that he needs, and his dealings with the Finnar are even somewhat friendly, although the saga notes that this is accomplished ‘sumt með hræzlugœði’ (‘in part by instilling fear’).19 As one of Harald’s men, Þórólf appears to have wide leeway to deal with the locals and collect tribute however he wishes, a circumstance which lends itself to corruption and mistreatment, as the saga indicates. This realistic description of a royal, proto-colonial policy towards the Finnar is unique in the sagas, however. More typically, interaction is depicted on the personal level, between individuals and as part of the protagonist’s engagement with the foreign and fantastical. King Óláf Tryggvason encounters a prophetic Finnr on an island; Ingimund of Vatnsdæla saga employs some Sámi to magically investigate a curse which a priestess of theirs had placed upon him.20 In such incidents in the saga genres of the konungasögur and Íslendingasögur (‘sagas of kings’ and ‘sagas of Icelanders’), these events typically occur early in the stories, before the protagonist or his family has left Scandinavia for Iceland or elsewhere. They are therefore implied to belong to a time or place long since gone, where fantastical events are thought more plausible. Such assumptions also inform the appearances of 16 17 18 19 20

Other terms used for giants in Old Norse include risi and þurs. Ármann Jakobsson, The Troll inside You, p. 18. Koht, ‘Var “Finnane” Alltid Finnar?’ pp. 162-163. Egils saga Skallagrímssonar, p. 27. Odd Snorrason, Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar, p. 61; and Vatnsdæla saga, p. 34.

Cultural Exchange at the Boundaries of the Far North


Finnar in the fornaldursögur, ‘sagas of ancient times’, which often feature an adventurer making his way into Bjarmaland and fighting a variety of sinister magical forces. The fornaldursögur are well-known for leaving any semblance of reality far behind, but they do appear to be based on actual Norse expeditions to these regions, and are accurate in their geography.21 Nevertheless, in nearly all of the cases in these genres, interactions with the Finnar feature individual rather than institutional action. Those actions take two forms, aggression and acquisition. Sometimes they occur in combination. Aggression is straightforward. In a genre in which the Finnar are frequently cast as villains, it is no surprise that the Norse are often depicted defending themselves against them, or making what are understood to be pre-emptive attacks. These battles are usually characterized as religious in motivation, with the Finnar using their sorcery to strike at the perceived threat of Christianity, and the (always victorious) Norse cleansing the area of heathenry. That such deeds were also frequently acts of conquest is not noted. But here we see the other principle of acquisition, which was often accompanied by force. Sometimes violence is employed directly in the procurement of valuables from the Finnar, as when the outlaws Bósi and Herrauð sack the temple of Jómali in Bjarmaland, carrying away riches, a fantastical egg, and a beautiful, exotic woman who just so happens to want to marry one of them.22 In other cases, however, the threat of force is enough, as we see with Þórólf’s dealings in Halogaland. In other cases, the Norse use their greater material wealth as leverage to exploit the Finnar, as when they trade common and inexpensive items such as butter, bacon, or tin for goods or services. While conducted under the ostensible agreement of a fair trade, the implication of these exchanges is the cultural poverty and hence inferiority of the Finnar, given their enthusiasm for such simple items.23 Incidents in which the Norse and Finnar intermarry and/or have children together add another dimension to the sagas’ understanding of relations between each people, however. Some accounts of Norse/Finnar relations 21 Hermann Pálsson, ‘Early Icelandic Narrative Literature’, p. 22; and Jónas Kristjánsson, Eddas and Sagas, pp. 342-345. 22 Bósa saga ok Herrauðs, pp. 254-258. 23 For exchanges, see Vatnsdæla saga, p. 34; and Helga þáttr Þórissonar, p. 347. On the enthusiasm of the Finnar for such items, see Ketils saga hængs, p. 160; and Cardew, ‘Mannfögnuður er Oss at Smjöri Þessu’, pp. 151-152. Of course, the Finnar may have felt the same way as the Norse about these bartering sessions, as they were themselves giving away items they held in abundance (magic and furs) for luxuries. Given the points of view and biases of the sagas, however, such attitudes, if they existed, are not expressed. We will see, however, how an environment can shape the needs, and therefore values, of a society, in the next chapter. P. 208.



are clearly conceived to disparage the latter, with Sámi or Finnish women depicted as exotic, seductive enchantresses out to ensnare and weaken powerful Norse men.24 And that sexual relations between the two always feature a Norse man and a Finnic woman certainly reflects gendered assumptions of power and ethnicity in the region at the time. However, the sagas also demonstrate that romantic and reproductive relationships between both groups were capable of being happy, successful, and pleasurable for both partners. Moreover, they also make the case that such cultural blending held tangible benefits for both the people involved and for Norse society as a whole, just as how other liminal activities can ultimately have far-reaching positive effects. The most sustained look at a multiethnic, multigenerational Norse family can be found in the series of sagas on the family settled on Hrafnista, in coastal Halogaland. The progenitor of the family is Hallbjörn Half-Troll, whose name, if taken literally, suggests that he is himself of mixed heritage. The genetic influence of the Finnar on the family is assured, however, in the liaison of Hallbjörn’s son Ketil Trout with the Sámi Hrafnhild (a woman who Hallbjörn contemptuously describes as a ‘troll’ when Ketil brings her home).25 The contribution of the Finnar to the family’s legacy is also symbolized by an heirloom passed down through the generations. In the same adventure in which he met Hrafnhild, Ketil also killed the Sámi king Gusir and took his magical arrows.26 These three arrows, which always hit their target and were never lost, were bequeathed to Ketil’s grandson Odd by his father Grim Hairy-Cheek.27 The in-between-ness of these characters’ identities, as with other forms of liminality, allow them greater freedom to cross between the worlds of their two parents. Ketil, Grim, and Arrow-Odd all have adventures in the lands of the Finnar, experiences which afford them access to multiple forms of capital. Yet there are drawbacks as well. Whether identified as Finnar, troll, jötnar, or otherwise, a common characteristic of monstrous others in the sagas was their unsociability. They are simply incompatible, in their personalities as in their constitutions, with Norse civilization. Their children, similarly, even if they are of mixed heritage, often find it difficult to conform to society’s standards. A particularly salient example is Bárð Dumbsson. Dumb is descended from risar (‘giants’) on his father’s side and troll on his mother’s. The saga explains the effect of this lineage: 24 25 26 27

Snorri Sturluson, Heimskringla, I, pp. 125-127. Ketils saga hængs, p. 123. Ketils saga hængs, p. 122. Örvar-Odds saga, p. 173.

Cultural Exchange at the Boundaries of the Far North


[B]rá því Dumbi í hvárutveggju ætt sína, því hann var bæði sterkr ok vænn ok góðr viðskiptis, ok kunni því at eiga allt sambland við mennska menn. En um þat brá honum í sitt móðurkyn, at hann var bæði sterkr ok stórvirkr ok umskiptasamr ok illskiptinn ef honum eigi líkaði nokkut.28 Dumb took after both halves of his lineage, for he was both strong and handsome and fair in his dealings, and known to have extensive interactions with humans. But he took after his mother’s side in that he was both mighty and a doer of great deeds, changeable and implacable if something was not to his liking.

The distinction which Bárðar saga Snæfellsás makes between risar and troll is unique, but it still sets up an internal conflict between the individual’s two halves, one civilized and the other feral.29 Dumb’s son, Bárð, who is named after his giant grandfather, ultimately finds that he cannot abide the strictures of humanity ‘at sakir ættar minnar’ (‘on account of my lineage’) and retires to the wilderness around the volcano Snæfell in Iceland.30 Martin Arnold traces the same conflict roiling the generations of the men of Hrafnista, as each either embraces or rejects their volatile Finnic side.31 If one traces the genealogies of the sagas, which are attentive to establishing bloodlines, one finds Finnic (or trollish) heritage in the backgrounds of many heroes. The great-grandmother of Egil Skallagrímsson was Hallbera, the sister of Hallbjörn Half-Troll; Ingimund of Vatnsdœla saga is also connected to the men of Hrafnista and has giants in his ancestry on both parents’ sides.32 In a parallel to the arrows of Hrafnista, Ingimund and his descendants have a sword associated with a giant relative, which is passed down as his legacy just as his blood and his name (Jǫkul, ‘ice’) are. This sword eventually comes into the hands of a later descendant, Grettir the Strong.33 All of these figures demonstrate their liminal heritage in one way or another. We have already seen how Egil’s grandfather Kveldúlf is 28 Bárðar saga snæfellsáss, p. 101. 29 See Arnold, ‘Hvat er tröll nema þat?’ pp. 131-133. 30 Bárðar saga snæfellsáss, p. 119. 31 Arnold, ‘Hvat er tröll nema þat?’ pp. 133-139. See also Ciklamini, ‘Grettir and Ketill Hængr, the Giant-Killers’, pp. 139-142. 32 Egils saga Skallagrímssonar, p. 3 (Hallbera is the feminine form of Hallbjörn, bera being the term for a female bear and björn being the male); and Vatnsdœla saga, p. 3. The identification of giants with Ingimund’s paternal ancestors is extrapolated from Hversu Noregr byggðist, pp. 75-78. See also Harris, ‘The Proverbs of Vatnsdœla saga’, p. 157. 33 Grettis saga, pp. 49-50; and Ciklamini, ‘Grettir and Ketill Hængr, the Giant-Killers’, pp. 141-142. For the background of this sword, see Harris, ‘The Proverbs of Vatnsdœla saga’, pp. 158-163.



able to transform at least partially into a wolf; Egil himself and Grettir too have something uncanny about them, and they are frequently mistaken for troll.34 These physically imposing figures are taciturn and antisocial as well. Both Grettir and Egil are good examples of the kolbítr trope, uncooperative and unpromising youths who go on to do great deeds, even if their attitudes never really improve.35 For the men of Hrafnista, Arnold ties all of these tendencies to the mixed heritage of these individuals. The same can be said for the others who are part Finnar in the sagas: All these sagas are marked by confrontation between a troll group and a human group, but the critical problem for all the protagonists is that, in varying measures, troll blood courses through their veins, a problem that is perpetuated by the indiscriminate coupling of their forebears. So it is that […] the troll blood works to isolate, to confer exceptional powers, to grant unsharable insights, and to give access to incredible events. The troll-human is a hero beyond the valuations of society.36

In this, the ‘troll-human’ is, conceptually, another type of outlaw, a liminal f igure whose inherent intermediacy confers both special abilities and difficult obstacles. And just as with outlaws, these powers can be channeled positively or negatively, or somewhere in between. Ingimund and his kin become fierce defenders of order in their valley in Iceland, their power stifling the attempts of others to employ liminal magic for destructive means. Others, like Grettir, Bárð, and to a lesser extent Egil, succeed against external threats yet succumb to the darker impulses within themselves, leading to unhappiness and tragedy. When the sagas include interactions between the Norse and the Finnar, therefore, they often depict incidents of uneven exchange, with the Norse benefiting from the northern goods, magical artifacts, or powerful heritage of their denigrated neighbors. Such depictions are likely based on the normal commerce that must have taken place between such closely-situated and integrated peoples, though many of the sagas obscure the reality of the circumstances by fantasizing the interaction, often presenting the Finnar as magicians and aggressors. In the other cases we have seen, however, 34 Egils saga Skallagrímssonar, pp. 4 and 178; and Grettis saga, p. 130. See also Ciklamini, ‘Grettir and Ketill Hængr, the Giant-Killers’, pp. 139-140. 35 Ciklamini, ‘Grettir and Ketill Hængr, the Giant-Killers’, pp. 142-146; and Larrington, ‘Awkward Adolescents’, pp. 150-151. 36 Arnold, ‘Hvat er tröll nema þat?’ pp. 134.

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dealings between the two are depicted as more mundane and reciprocal, if still far from even-handed. The advantages obtained, however, have costs, and the liminality of those with access to the foreign must be managed, productive and destructive transgression determined and pursued. Through depicting these conflicts, the sagas acknowledge the role of foreign influence in Norse society and as well as its challenges; to understand how central such considerations could be, however, one has to take a look at the mythology.

Cultural Conduct among the Gods How faithfully Snorri Sturluson’s Edda preserves the pre-Christian beliefs of the Norse is difficult to determine.37 For the purposes here, however, it suffices to treat it as an early thirteenth-century product wherein the anthropomorphic deities act in ways that were familiar and comprehensible to Snorri and his audience. In this, it is like the sagas, which depict past times, as well as places as divergent as Norway and Constantinople, in ways that mimic contemporary Icelandic society. In this way, the interactions between mythological groups – the Æsir, the Vanir, jötnar, dwarves, and others – serve as models for cultural contact. They demonstrate potential scenarios or possible strategies for engaging other peoples, and indicate, through their success or failure, the wisdom or folly of the choices made. They model, as we said, current behavior and policy and reproduce as a result the assumptions and prejudices of that era; however, by associating these actions with pagan antiquity, they grant them the authority of tradition. The gods acted thus, just as we do still as Christians. It must therefore be right, both morally and in efficacy. It is essentially an argument of conduct, presented in the actions of heathen gods with the imprimatur of the Christian author, through the transference of medieval behavior into an essentially prehistoric tradition that closes the loop: the gods act this way because we do, and we act this way because the gods did. Given this, it is important to note that Snorri’s Edda does not describe a world with no room for cooperation between peoples. The Æsir and the Vanir used to be at odds. Snorri gives no details of their conflict, but it ended peacefully: ‘þeir lögðu með sér friðstefnu ok settu grið’38 (‘they arranged a peace meeting among themselves and established a truce’). The ultimate result of that truce, after a complicated series of events, was the Mead 37 For an overview of the question, see Lindow, ‘Mythology and Mythography’, pp. 35-40. 38 Snorri, Edda: Skáldskaparmál, I, pp. 3.



of Poetry, which granted the gods the talent of verse and allowed them to bestow it upon anyone in their favor.39 So it is not only that the Edda contains examples of peaceful resolution, but it also shows the positive outcome of such behavior. Aside from this one allusion to their conflict, the Æsir and Vanir are depicted as living and interacting peacefully together in a bicultural Ásgarð. Though the practices of the Vanir are different from those of the Æsir, concessions and accommodations are shown to be difficult but still possible, and ultimately successful in allowing them to live and work together. 40 As the Mead of Poetry indicates, it is conceivable, through diplomacy, for divergent peoples to engage harmoniously, and to build something beautiful as a result. However, the story of the Mead of Poetry, from how it begins in the peace conference of the gods to its eventual residence in their halls, is also one of murder, deception, and theft, one that sees poetry pass through the possession of several mythic cultures. It is held within the body of a man, brewed by dwarves, and hoarded by giants. The gods obtain it when Óðin tricks the jötunn Suttung, sleeps with his daughter, and steals it out from under his nose. If the message of this episode is that harmony is possible between peoples, so too is strife, and that benefit can be derived from both. Óðin’s theft of the mead resembles the treatment of the Finnar in works such as Bósa saga ok Herrauðs, wherein the adventurers steal from their temples and sleep with their women. The treatment of the jötnar in the Edda, we can see, is analogous to the treatment of the Finnar or troll in the sagas, both in the variety of relationships shown being possible as well as in the presumption of hostility and prevalence of exploitation in their stories. If the account of the Æsir and the Vanir demonstrates the efficacy of resolution in interethnic relations, then the depiction of the gods’ stance towards the jötnar indicates the benefits of opposition. Unlike any of the sagas’ discussion of the Finnar, Snorri’s Edda clearly spells out the subordinate position of the jötnar relative to the gods. The jötnar, the text explains, are ‘illar’ (‘evil’), and thus manifestly not worthy of the same reverence as the gods are. Elsewhere, it is suggested that oaths with giants can be violated with impunity.41 In many of their details, the jötnar are reminiscent of the Finnar. Like their mundane counterparts, they represent the other end of the conceptual spectrum in comparison to the Norse gods:

39 Snorri, Edda: Skáldskaparmál, I, pp. 4-5. 40 Clunies Ross, Prolonged Echoes, I, pp. 77-78. 41 Snorri, Edda: Prologue and Gylfaginning, pp. 10 and 35.

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they embody chaos over order, nature over civilization, female over male. 42 Like the Finnar, they are located at the outskirts of society. One location in which they can be found is Utgarðr. With ut meaning ‘out’ and garðr loosely translating into ‘an enclosed space’, Utgarðr is probably most accurately rendered as ‘out-settlement’, but Riti Kroesen puts it more poetically and perhaps more accurately when she glosses Utgarðr as ‘the place on the outside of the fences’. In this construction, Miðgarðr, the realm of humans, is not just ‘middle-settlement’ but ‘the place that is enclosed amidst fences’. 43 A dichotomy is thus set up between civilization and wilderness, between a society and those on its artificial boundaries. In this way, the giants are literally not of this world, which is also evinced by their strong associations with magic. Like the Finnar, the giants can shift shape, command the elements, create illusions, and cast spells. Unsurprisingly, then, the exploitation of the jötnar by the gods is also parallel to the relationships depicted among the Norse and the Finnar. Virtually every treasure or specialized weapon the gods hold is obtained from some other group by one means or another. Their primacy over their neighbors and defense against the outside world is directly dependent on that same outside world. Moreover, there is a clear distinction between how goods are obtained from the jötnar and how they are taken from others. Þórr’s hammer Mjölnir and its accoutrements, Frey’s magical boar and his ship Skidbladnir, Sif’s golden hair, Óðin’s self-replicating ring and spear Gungnir, and the restraints that hold the wolf Fenris – these were all forged by the dwarves, through commerce or competition. 44 The circumstances are different for items obtained from the jötnar. These include the walls that protect Ásgarð, the Mead of Poetry (as we saw), the wisdom of Mímir (located among the hrímþursa, or frost-giants), and the fantastic horse Sleipnir. 45 In these cases, however, nearly all of these items are seized through theft, invasion, or fraud, in the breaking of contracts and the violation of trust. The entanglement of the gods with the jötnar does not end there, however. As with so many of the saga heroes, many of the gods are of mixed heritage. In fact, virtually any of those whose family trees are known have jötnar in their pasts, often not very far back at all. According to Snorri, the first living beings were jötnar, created from a confluence of fire and ice. 46 The male 42 Mundal, ‘Austr sat in aldna…’, p. 187. 43 Kroesen, ‘Ambiguity in the Relationship between Heroes and Giants’, p. 59. 44 Snorri, Edda: Prologue and Gylfaginning, p. 28; and Snorri, Edda: Skáldskaparmál, I, pp. 41-42. 45 Snorri, Edda: Prologue and Gylfaginning, pp. 17 and 34-35. 46 Snorri, Edda: Prologue and Gylfaginning, p. 10.



descendent of the Æsir, meanwhile, was generated from the earth, and his son Bor wed the giantess Bestla. One of their children was Óðin, and it is from this line that all the Æsir are descended. So the Æsir are part jötnar, which makes the division set up between the two groups primarily social rather than based on any actual distinction. For some of the Æsir, their closeness to the giants is even more pronounced. Þórr, most notably, whose primary function is to battle the jötnar and maintain the boundaries between them, is the son of the giantess Jörð, the Earth. 47 Loki, too, is half-giant. Many of the gods, such as Njörð and Frey, are married to jötnar who are accepted into the community, suggesting that there is little if any taboo against such unions or the children of mixed heritage which would result. There are limitations, however. Just as in the sagas, mixed marriages and sexual relations between the jötnar and the gods always feature a male from the dominant culture and a female from the subjugated one. Norse society appears to have held a doxa forbidding the male of an ethnic minority to lie with a female from the majority, for the rule is never stated yet rigidly adhered to. By cataloguing all the connections among the gods and giants, it is possible to sketch out the sexual policy that governs the interactions of the various classes of gods and giants in Snorri’s cosmography. The Æsir marry only within their group but also take giantess mistresses; the children born of these unions are considered Æsir. This places the Vanir – Njörð and his children Frey and Freyja – in a difficult position, since they cannot marry Æsir nor commit incest. So the male Vanir take brides from among the jötnar, while Freyja is put a position wherein chastity is the only respectable option. For she, as one of the Vanir and a woman, is not allowed to lie with the Æsir or the jötnar, making any liaison she may have scandalous and illegitimate.48 Such conventions reflect the patriarchal society that created the myths, but they also serve to benefit the Æsir. Margaret Clunies Ross has called this arrangement one of ‘negative reciprocity’ in which ‘each group was out to gain an advantage over the other, not by an orderly exchange of natural and cultural goods or of women in marriage, but by subterfuge and trickery’. 49 So it is that the jötnar attempt to abduct Iðunn or Freyja and steal Mjölnir or the sun and moon, and the gods feel justified in pilfering items such as the Mead of Poetry and in violating oaths of sanctuary.50 47 Snorri, Edda: Prologue and Gylfaginning, p. 30. 48 There are scattered references to a husband of Freyja named Óð, but nothing is known of him and many of the stories presuppose Freyja’s status as unmarried. Clunies Ross, Prolonged Echoes, I, pp. 97-98. 49 Clunies Ross, ‘Reading Þrymskviða’, p. 180. 50 Clunies Ross, Prolonged Echoes, I, pp. 103-143.

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The major exception to this state of affairs is the god Loki. His father Fárbauti is a jötunn, while his mother Laufey’s heritage is more obscure.51 It is notable that Loki is known as Loki Laufeyiarson, ‘son of Laufey’, since in the Norse world it was considered an extraordinary measure to trace one’s descent from the mother’s side.52 This suggests that it was somehow more advantageous for Loki to associate himself with his mother than his father, which may speak to her higher status. It at least suggests something irregular with the circumstances of Loki’s conception. If Laufey was a goddess, then having a child by Fárbauti would be in direct disobedience of the rules governing sexual intercourse in the gods’ society. And even if not, Loki would be the only male jötunn allowed to live within Asgarð’s walls, and his marriage to Sigyn, a goddess, would be another offense.53 Being liminal in body, Loki acts as an agent of transgression and exchange throughout the mythological literature of the Norse. John McKinnell argues that Loki’s intermediacy is precisely his point, that he represents a precise balance between the orderliness of the gods and the chaos of the jötnar which allows him to move comfortably among both. This makes him the perfect ‘mediator’ – unlike his fellow half-giant Þórr, who like Loki deals often with jötnar but only antagonistically, in the service of keeping the gods’ order.54 So when the gods need to initiate dialogue rather than war between themselves and the jötnar, they send Loki, just as they do in most cases when they wish for something held by the giants (such as Mjölnir or Iðunn and her apples) to be stolen. In fact, nearly all the contact they have with the giants is conducted with Loki as a go-between. It is because of him that the gods have nearly all the gifts of the dwarves, the giant-built walls of Ásgarð free of charge, and the magnificent horse Sleipnir. Moreover, Loki’s utility works both ways, as the jötnar make use of him too. They manage to kidnap Iðunn and disarm Þórr only with Loki’s compelled assistance.55 Loki’s position with the gods’ world, in other words, corresponds to that of the outlaw within human society. Like Grettir he is capable of traversing between both the interior and exterior worlds, protecting the former from the latter and deriving benefit from his medial nature. Yet also like Grettir his ancestry overwhelms him in the end. While Loki’s lineage makes him an ambassador for the gods, it may ultimately fate him 51 Snorri, Edda: Prologue and Gylfaginning, p. 26. 52 Roscoe, Queer Spirits, p. 184. 53 Snorri, Edda: Skáldskaparmál, I, pp. 1 and 114. 54 John McKinnell, Both One and Many, pp. 35-36. 55 Snorri, Edda: Skáldskaparmál, I, pp. 1-2 and 20-25.



to turn against them. When Snorri describes Loki’s monstrous children, he asserts, ‘þótti öllum mikils ills af væni, fyrst af móðerni ok enn verra af faðerni’56 (‘everyone thought great ill of their prospects, first because of their mother and yet worse because of their father’). The statement is meant to impugn Loki’s character, but it also suggests that, for the Norse, one’s temperament and allegiance is derived more from the paternal line than the maternal.57 This would explain why Þórr functions as a barrier to engagement with the jötnar while Loki is a catalyst, as both take after their fathers. Within the body and behavior of Loki, therefore, Snorri presents both the promise and peril of liminality. That Loki ultimately leads to the destruction of the gods and their orderly universe suggests that perhaps true discernment was not possible in this religious system in contrast to Christianity; of course, the sagas, which present pagan successes and Christian failures among their protagonists, do not present so simple an interpretation.

Conduct in the Far North The later manuscript of Örvar-Odds saga, which dates from the late fourteenth century, incorporates further material than its earlier texts.58 The most extensive of these additions is an episode in which Odd discovers on one of his adventures a son he never knew he had, born from a woman he had lain with when was visiting Risaland (‘giant-land’). The boy, named Vignir and aged ten, is flabbergasted at how small his father is, as he is already larger than all the adults on the expedition.59 When his father asks him to join them, Vignir agrees, and soon their ships come upon an island covered in heather. Odd orders an approach and tells five men to disembark and search for water. Vignir, in contrast, resists anchoring, and forbids any of his crew to leave the ship. His caution is vindicated, for the island suddenly submerges, drowning all five of the men. Vignir explains that this was no island, instead a sea beast known as lýngbakr, ‘heather-back’, which imitates an island in order to lure unwary sailors. He further explains that Odd’s archenemy Ögmund Tussock, ‘með fjölkýngi sinni’ (‘by means of his 56 Snorri, Edda: Prologue and Gylfaginning, p. 27. 57 Clunies Ross, Prolonged Echoes, I, pp. 64-66; and Kristensen, ‘Why Was Óðinn Killed by Fenrir?’, pp. 159-162. 58 Edwards and Hermann Pálsson, ‘Introduction’, Arrow-Odd, p. xxi. 59 Örvar-Odds saga, pp. 246-247.

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sorcery’) had sent this creature and another to bedevil Odd. He warns of the suffering that Ögmund will cause, and, sure enough, soon after this the villain savagely kills the giant boy.60 This interpolation clearly owes much to the Navigatio sancti Brendani and the Physiologus tradition preserved there and in The Whale. If one assumes that it retains a lesson of conduct, however, it is interesting to note from where correct discernment derives. In the Christian tradition of discretio spirituum, a common admonition is to rely on the wisdom of elders.61 Here, in contrast, they should have let a child lead them. What Vignir may lack in age, however, he makes up for in liminality. Half human, half jötunn, it is only he who is perceptive and experienced enough to correctly identify a deadly hazard at sea and advise others to avoid it. Sensitive to magic like his mother’s people, he is the only one aware of the supernatural reasons for the monsters’ presence, and capable of pinpointing Ögmund as the source of it. Yet, blessed with his father’s control and moral compass, he is able to put these talents to productive use, employing his giant-like discernment and strength to save his father. Vignir’s killer, Ögmund, has none of these controls. The son of the king of the Bjarmar and a gýgr (‘ogress’ or ‘witch’), Ögmund’s entire heritage is Finnic and/or trollish, amplified and exacerbated by his fosterage in Finnmark and in the black magic the Bjarmar wove around him so that no weapon could harm him. This process of ensorcellment is termed trylla – literally ‘trolling’ – and if Vignir’s nature and upbringing fostered in him a healthy balance, then Ögmund’s has made him ‘aungum menskum manni líkr’62 (‘unlike any human being’). It is no surprise, then, that when he and Vignir clash, Ögmund’s edge over him lies in his savagery, attacking his opponent in a way only animals are able and willing to do, by tearing his throat out with his teeth.63 If Vignir represents the potential for excellence through engagement with the liminal, then Ögmund represents the potential for disaster. What is necessary to mitigate the danger, it is clear, is control, either in the makeup of the individual’s blood or in the discipline they learn. The depiction of cultural interaction upon the boundaries of Norse peoples and their gods combines a straightforward frankness about the reality of its occurrence with a complicated consideration of its effects. Their texts tacitly admit cultural appropriation and exploitation, and demonstrate how 60 61 62 63

Örvar-Odds saga, pp. 248-252. See pp. 127-128. Örvar-Odds saga, pp. 241-242. Örvar-Odds saga, p. 251.



such acquisitiveness and syncretism can enrich a culture. At the same time, however, they acknowledge the difficulties that arise when incompatibles meet, in the interactions between groups or in the body of someone who represents this combining of two traditions. In this way, the dramas played out in the sagas and in Snorri’s Edda are a version of the question posed by outlaws elsewhere over transgression and discernment, played out in the arena of medieval sociology. Deriving from a different, native tradition, these works do not express their principles through explicitly Christian terminology or presumptions. Nevertheless, they demonstrate an indigenous strain of the same concepts, which dovetailed well with the ideas coming to the North Atlantic from the south.


Transgression in Transition after the Norman Conquest

A New Outlaw for a New Time According to the twelfth-century Gesta Herwardi, the outlaw Hereward the Wake was driven from England before the Normans arrived to conquer it. He must have known about the invasion, but its effects on the Anglo-Saxon people do not hit home for him until he returns and realizes its dire consequences for his own family. The foreigners had ransacked his lands, roughed up his widowed mother, and when Hereward’s younger brother dared to defend her, they killed him and placed his head upon a pike. Hereward is forced to enter his ancestral house incognito, removing his brother’s head before facing what was inside. There he finds the Normans feasting and drinking in celebration of their crime. There is also an entertainer, who demands a piece of the spoils for his fee, but one of the locals declares that if Hereward were there, the Normans would never be able to lay claim to the plunder. The leader sneers at this, slanders Hereward’s reputation and concludes, ‘Nam crucis patibulo afficeretur, nisi ex fuga suae saluti provideret, in nulla terra nisi trans Alpes ausus habitare’1 (‘He may very well have been hung on the joint of a cross, unless he safeguarded his health through flight, undertaking to live on the other side of the Alps’). At this point Hereward steps out of the shadows and proves himself to be terrifyingly present, killing them all. The Gesta Herwardi is but one of several twelfth-century works which feature the exploits of Hereward the Wake.2 Stories such as these demonstrate that the transgressive power of the outlaw in the North Atlantic persisted into the High Middle Ages. Unmoored on account of his outlawry, Hereward has a location as unstable as any other part of his liminal identity. He could be abroad, or he could be only yards away. His ability to cross 1 Gesta Herwardi, pp. 367. The work exists in one thirteenth-century manuscript, Peterborough Cathedral MS 1, fols. 320-339, now at Cambridge. 2 Aside from the Gesta Herwardi, Hereward’s story is most developed in the Liber Eliensis, pp. 173-193 (book II, chpts. 102-110); and Geffrei Gaimar, Estoire des Engleis, pp. 297-309. For general information on Hereward and the sources, see Keen, Outlaws of Medieval Legend, pp. 9-38; Hart, ‘Hereward “the Wake”’, pp. 28-40; Hayward, ‘Hereward the Outlaw’, pp. 293-303; Keynes, ‘Ely Abbey 672-1109’, pp. 3-10 and 41-46; Jones, Outlawry in Medieval Literature, pp. 74-87; and Dalton, ‘The Outlaw Hereward “the Wake”’, pp. 8-15.



borders so easily symbolizes his unpredictability as an opponent, and with this declaration of his presence back in England, he begins his role as a local resistance leader in the East Anglian fens. This is the same region where centuries before both Guthlac and Æthelbald employed the mutability of border existence to their advantage, and Hereward displays the same ability as well, using his facility with the region to frustrate his opponents, upend expectations and connect peoples and places which previously held no association. His base of operations was not, like his predecessors, the abbey of Crowland, but rather the nearby Isle of Ely, which shared many of the same qualities as its fellow fenland house. From this stronghold – which had its own history of existence on the border – Hereward and his allies led a revolt against a regime that sought to impose an outside order upon England. Yet while there is certainly a continuity between Hereward and the outlaw heroes who preceded him, he also represents a change in the traditional narrative of the North Atlantic outlaw. Just as the East Anglian fens provided the perfect place for Guthlac to initiate a new, ascetic form of transgression, here too would Hereward reinvent the outlaw figure so that it could continue to unsettle society in the Norman era. The adventures of Hereward also demonstrate the significance of the fens as a liminal space suitable for cultivating illicit and/or countercultural activity, an environment whose physical intermediacy made normal conduct difficult and rewarded adaptability. This was as much the case in Guthlac’s day as in Hereward’s – indeed, it is a constant in the history of the fens – but in the Hereward story the conflict between the unique liminal culture of the fens and the outside forces that seek to regularize it is placed into particularly sharp relief. The watery ground of the fenland supports nonstandard livelihoods and a reorganization of priorities; these, in turn, put its inhabitants at odds with outside powers used to more stable environments, both ecologically and culturally. It is no surprise then that outlaws and rebels would flourish in the region again and again, while the normally effective instruments of the establishment would founder. As a result, the historical tactic of those who seek to subjugate the fens has always been to link environmental and social policy: ‘discipline and drain’, as Rod Giblett so pithily describes it.3 The reoccurrence of this tactic throughout history, and the consistent characterization of fenland peoples from ancient times into the present day, demonstrate a sustained struggle against a liminal, shifting environment and its idiosyncratic inhabitants. And just as Hereward represents the transition between the earlier forms of 3 Giblett, Postmodern Wetlands, p. 3.

Transgression in Transition af ter the Norman Conquest


literary outlawry and the later, his story, and the way it intersects with the fenland resistance to the Norman Invasion, also marks an inflection point in the struggle of English government(s) to control the fens as a community and a region that supported nonstandard, liminal existence.

Hereward the Wake At the center of these intersections stands the f igure of Hereward the Wake. Like his literary counterpart in the Gesta Herewardi, the actual Hereward, as far as we can perceive him, was a landowner dispossessed by the Normans who formed part of the resistance in East Anglia in 1071. 4 He is first mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle forming an alliance with an invading Danish force and sacking the abbey of Peterborough. They carried away most of the monastery’s treasures in order to protect the items from the acquisitive grasp of the newly-appointed Norman abbot Turold, or so they claimed. In truth the items were never recovered.5 The Danes left, but Hereward and his men took up residence on the nearby isle of Ely, where they participated in the resistance led by the nobles who fled there for safety from William – Earl Morcar, Bishop Æthelwine, and Siward Bearn.6 In the chronicle accounts of the battle, Hereward is praised for leading those who escaped capture to safety but is otherwise not mentioned.7 Yet either as an Anglo-Saxon aristocrat resisting Norman encroachment, an opportunist taking advantage of civil strife, or something in between, Hereward was not unusual for his time. Numerous historical sources attest to Anglo-Saxons who retreated to remote places and struck at England’s new rulers.8 One named was Eadric the Wild, who harried Herefordshire in 1067.9 4 There has been an effort to rehabilitate the Gesta as a historical source to a certain degree. See Hayward, ‘Hereward the Outlaw’, pp. 293-304; Head, Hereward; van Houts, ‘The Memory of 1066 in Written and Oral Traditions’, pp. 172-174; Thomas, ‘The Gesta Herwardi, the English, and Their Conquerors’, pp. 214-215; and van Houts, ‘Hereward and Flanders’, pp. 201-223. 5 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, MS E, pp. 88-89; and Hugh Candidus, The Chronicle of Hugh Candidus, pp. 77-79. Hart, ‘Hereward “the Wake”’, pp. 30-31; and Keynes, ‘Ely Abbey 672-1109’, p. 44. 6 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, MS D, p. 85; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, MS E, p. 90; Hart, ‘Hereward “The Wake”’, p. 32; and Keynes, ‘Ely Abbey 672-1109’, pp. 43-44. 7 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, MS D, p. 85; and The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, MS E, p. 90. 8 Chronicon Monasterii de Abingdon, I, p. 485; Chronicon Abbatiæ de Evesham ad annum 1418, p. 90; and Orderic Vitalis, The Ecclesiastical History, II, pp. 216-219. 9 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, MS D, pp. 81-82; Florence of Worcester, Chronicon ex chronicis, II, pp. 1-2; and Reynolds, ‘Eadric Silvaticus and the English Resistance’, pp. 102-105.



These Anglo-Saxon rebels retained all of the hallmarks of the transgressive outlaw. Their forces were multicultural, drawn from enemy regions neighboring the kingdom. Eadric, like Guthlac before him, was allied with the Welsh, while Hereward, as we saw, found common cause with the Danes. The rebels were inextricably associated with the harsh border regions of Britain. In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Earls Edwin and Morcar ‘mislice ferdon on wudu 7 on felda’10 (‘wandered about in the forests and open spaces’). The Abingdon Chronicle emphasizes that the rebels held bases in forests and islands,11 and Orderic Vitalis reports that the Normans labeled them silvatici (‘wild’ or ‘forest-going’), a designation which correlates with the term skóggangr for full outlawry in Icelandic law.12 The correspondence indicates less a direct connection than a similarity in how such men were perceived. Orderic states that the rebels felt they drew strength from their way of life: ‘Plures in tabernaculis morabantur, in domibus ne mollescerent requiescere dedignabantur’13 (‘More [of them] lodged in tents, not condescending to rest in houses lest they grow soft’). The Gesta Herwardi would seem to agree with this sentiment as well, as it styles its hero as a man who ‘nec in munitione, nec in praesidio, sed in seipso confisus’14 (‘trusted neither in fortifications nor in castles but in himself’). A nomadic existence was not just beneficial in toughening the rebels up, but in more quantifiable ways as well. After returning to England in 1067 to consolidate his rule, William’s policy towards his conquered subjects turned from conciliation to punishment as rebellion persisted. In a campaign wherein William sought to break his opponents by confiscating and/or destroying their property, the less one had the harder one was to hurt. And by being mobile themselves, the rebels were more difficult to capture; one cannot punish what one cannot catch. These outlaw figures were participating in a political transition larger than either their personal or even national concerns. The Norman Conquest was part of a larger trend in the eleventh through thirteenth centuries that saw the farther-flung regions of Europe incorporated into the normative Christian culture of the mainland West.15 Ireland and Iceland too in subsequent centuries were drawn closer to Rome’s influence and were made 10 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, MS D, p. 85; and The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, MS E, p. 90. 11 Chronicon Monasterii de Abingdon, I, p. 485. 12 Orderic Vitalis, Ecclesiastical History, pp. 218-219; and Byock, Viking Age Iceland, p. 231. 13 Orderic Vitalis, Ecclesiastical History, pp. 216-219. 14 Gesta Herwardi, p. 341. 15 This process was extensively laid out by Robert Bartlett in The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization and Cultural Change 950-1350. For its applicability to the Norman Conquest, see Thomas, The English and the Normans, p. 6.

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part of overseas empires. Yet in comparison to the types of involvement these cultures saw with the foreign in the early Middle Ages, in these centuries interactions were increasingly on terms not their own. After their takeover of England, the Normans became involved in Ireland after Diarmait mac Murchada, the king of Leinster, swore fealty to Henry II in 1169 in exchange for men so he could contest the high-kingship. Though Ireland was never fully conquered in the Middle Ages, Diarmait’s invitation to Norman interference opened the door to their long occupation and colonization of the island. Likewise, after decades of political deterioration, Iceland came under the control of the Norwegian crown in 1262. The effects of conquest on each of these societies were complex and multifaceted. There is no one narrative to guide one’s understanding of the region’s history, and no simple lesson to derive from their disparate experiences. Iceland, for example, technically chose its fate, as King Hákon Hákonarson was voted into rulership by a farmer class fed up with the misgovernance of their native leaders (although this was a circumstance partially orchestrated by Hákon himself). Once part of the Norwegian kingdom, the Icelanders were ruled by a succession of conciliatory monarchs and retained a good deal of their freedom.16 Compare their situation to that of Ireland, which saw waves of successive Anglo-Norman settlers in the Middle Ages and beyond, and suffered under administrations that were by turns neglectful and abusive. The situation again in England is different, and well-known: the Anglo-Saxon defeat at the Battle of Hastings and subsequent rebellions resulted in a ruling class that was almost entirely Norman – within a decade most of the Anglo-Saxon nobility and higher clergy were gone.17 The effects of the Norman Conquest on English literature have been overstated,18 but the intrusion of the Normans, who took their language and cultural cues from France,19 represented an extensive new competitor for cultural capital in Britain. Moreover, they held the advantage of political primacy over the island, a status that once belonged to the Anglo-Saxons and their culture. As such, they were free to meddle and evaluate however they liked the conventions of those they had conquered. Richard Gameson describes the tastemaking of the new Norman elite as ‘a critical auditing of Anglo-Saxon 16 Byock, Viking Age Iceland, pp. 348-353. 17 For the history of this swift decline, see Knowles, The Monastic Order in England, pp. 103-127; Golding, Conquest and Colonisation, pp. 34-49; Crouch, The Normans, pp. 99-108; Carpenter, The Struggle for Mastery, pp. 75-90; and Treharne, Living through Conquest, p. 106. 18 Treharne, Living through Conquest, pp. 93-105. 19 For an overview of Norman culture, its provenance and its salient features, and how it stood in contrast to that of the Anglo-Saxons, see Thomas, The English and the Normans, pp. 32-55.



civilization’.20 This did not entail a wholesale destruction of Anglo-Saxon culture, but in some ways the outsiders’ glib reappraisal of a wide range of societal conventions could be just as traumatic. Describing the Normans as ‘self-confident, and with a mild ethnocentric feeling of superiority to the English “barbarians”’, Hugh M. Thomas says they ‘showed no compunction about tearing down venerable buildings, altering at will liturgical arrangements that had the sanction of tradition, and bringing in new artistic and intellectual traditions to supplement or replace old ones’.21 As may be expected, the Anglo-Saxon response to such a rapid reorganization was to conserve and protect. Elaine Treharne demonstrates that the Conquest inspired not a decline in Anglo-Saxon writing but rather a proliferation, as the remnants of the old order scrambled to preserve the past. ‘This is the noise’, she observes, ‘that responds insistently against the Conquest, but also vocalizes, through text, the desperation of the cognizant’.22 R.W. Southern sees a similar motive underlying the explosion of history writing at about the same time.23 The Anglo-Saxons, like the rest of the North Atlantic, felt vulnerable to being eclipsed by outsiders. In such transitional times, it is perhaps not surprising that transitory f igures should rise to prominence. These are the periods in which the Icelandic sagas were written, and when tales of Finn MacCumaill and his fían came to greatest prominence in Ireland. Likewise, the presence of outlaw figures such as Eadric and Hereward in the wake of the Conquest, and the development of Hereward into a literary hero, represents both sides of the transition the kingdom was undergoing, both politically and culturally. In some way, by turning to the outlaw to embody the opposition, Anglo-Saxons and their sympathizers were reaching for a traditional, indigenous figure of resistance, one of considerable antiquity with well-established associations of principled, implacable opposition and capability beyond the reach of established authorities. Yet at the same time, changing circumstances forced a change in the conception of the outlaw. The revolution in Anglo-Saxons’ relationship with the wider world affected their opinion of engaging with it, and altered the way they depicted those figures identified with the boundaries between the inside and the outside. Hereward, whose story takes place at the heart of the conflict, embodies this change. 20 Gameson, ‘English Manuscript Art in the Late Eleventh Century’, p. 95. 21 Thomas, The English and the Normans, p. 370. 22 Treharne, Living through Conquest, pp. 89-90. 23 Southern, ‘Presidential Address’, pp. 246-248.

Transgression in Transition af ter the Norman Conquest


In many ways, Hereward is a quintessential outlaw in the early North Atlantic mode. There are many elements of his story in the Gesta Herwardi, especially in the beginning, that are clearly drawn from earlier outlaw tradition and the older North Atlantic understanding of the benefits of liminality. J.C. Holt describes the Gesta as ‘a peculiar and interesting literary amalgam which owes something to Norse saga and much to French epics’, and in its description of its hero’s youth, the piece is reliant upon North Atlantic ideas of the Männerbund and of the rite de passage.24 While Hereward gained his fame fighting the Normans, in the Gesta his outlawry is not imposed upon him by William but rather is declared well before the Conquest. Like so many of the saga heroes, Hereward proves to be a difficult adolescent: Hic ergo dum in talibus adhuc juvenculus et multis majoribus animositatum progressibus de die in diem proficeret, et juvenis supra modum in viriles actus transcenderet, interdum nemini parcebat quem vel in fortudine aliquantum rebellem suae virtuti cognoscebat seu in certamine. Propterea quidem et hiis etiam de causis saepissime seditionem faciebat in populo et tumultum in plebe. Unde patrem sibi inutilem et parentes valde ingratos reddebat, ob magnanimitatum ejus opera et fortitudinum cum amicis quotidie et vicinis decertantes, et inter provinciales velut hostes et tyranni se pro illo agentes, strictis gladiis, et armis pene semper filium a ludo vel a certamine revertentum muniendo.25 So therefore while in his youth he took great strides in courage day to day, and his manly acts exceeded the bounds of his youth, at times he spared no one who he felt challenged his ability in courage or fighting in any way. In fact for that and additional reasons he would frequently incite violence throughout the populace and turmoil among the peasants. Consequently he made his father implacable towards him in return and his parents very angry, as they nearly always protected him, gripping their swords and arms, when he returned from play or acts of valor, since the daily enormity of his deeds and his audacity with his friends and quarrels with the neighbors made the locals behave as enemies and tyrants before them. 24 Holt, Robin Hood, p. 63. A thorough accounting of the correspondences between the Gesta Herwardi and Scandinavian sources can be found in Leach, Angevin Britain and Scandinavia, pp. 343-350; de Lange, The Relation and Development of English and Icelandic Outlaw-Traditions, pp. 10-29; and Jones, ‘Fighting Men, Fighting Monsters’, pp. 183-201. 25 Gesta Herwardi, p. 342.



Hereward has the ability and desire to fight but no outlet for his passions, which leads to unmanageable conflict at home. The traditional method for mitigating such circumstances in the North Atlantic, as we have seen, is to form a Männerbund, which Hereward does after his father drives him from home: ‘Nec sic quidem adquievit, sed assumptis secum collectaneis, patrem ad sua praedia tendentem interim praecedebat, distribuens bona illius amicis et sibi faventibus, constitutis insuper sibimet in quibusdam paternis rebus ministris et servientibus, ut suis annonam ministrarent’26 (‘Indeed, he did not settle down then, but gathered his fellows with him, running ahead of his father as he toured his landholdings, distributing his goods among his friends and allies, arranging these people as agents and servants over his father’s affairs so that they commandeered his supplies’). Hereward here acts, in basic principle, like an early Anglo-Saxon aristocrat driven from his kingdom by an insecure ruler, since he forms a cohort and fights back against his persecutor; at this smaller scale, however, the effect is nearly parodic, as Hereward’s enemy is his father and in striking back he plunders only his inheritance. Nevertheless, his retaliation causes the intended amount of pain, and his father ‘a rege Edwardo impetravit, ut exul a patria fieret’ (‘attained from King Edward that [Hereward] be exiled from the kingdom’). This was done, and ‘unde statim agnomen Exulis adeptus est, in decimo octavo aetatis anno a patre et patria expulsus’27 (‘so the epithet outlaw was obtained [by him], banished from his father and his fatherland in the eighteenth year of his life’). Yet once Hereward is ejected from England, travel channels Hereward’s restlessness and aggression towards ends beneficial to both him and society. His journey takes him to Northumbria, Cornwall, and Ireland, but he eventually settles in Flanders. Along the way, he performs great feats for noble causes and earns treasure, prestige, an excellent sword and a fine horse, and is offered numerous chances to join the local aristocracies via marriage (he eventually weds a Flemish noblewoman, Turfrida). Like those difficult young men of the fíana, in the sagas, or in Anglo-Saxon tradition, Hereward’s freebooting throughout the North Atlantic has placed enormous amounts of economic, cultural, social and symbolic capital at his disposal.28 When he returns to England to face the Normans, he is no longer the feckless youth who held no concern for the plight of his neighbors, but a hero with the means to defend them. 26 Gesta Herwardi, p. 342. 27 Gesta Herwardi, pp. 342-343. 28 This process is examined in more detail in Jones, ‘Fighting Men, Fighting Monsters’, pp. 190-201.

Transgression in Transition af ter the Norman Conquest


Yet in his new mission Hereward is now something different from the outlaws of old. Maurice Keen asserts that once Hereward kills the Normans in his ancestral home, ‘this warrior who resembles the saga heroes is forgotten and the outlaw appears on the scene’.29 Of course, Hereward had long been outlawed before his reemergence in England, so in his use of the term Keen means something beyond its legal definition, and in addition to the element of liminality that is inherent to the identity. The second half of Hereward’s story in the Gesta takes on an aspect of social justice that was not present before in his tale nor in much of the older tradition upon which it previously drew. Hereward comes close to meeting Eric Hobsbawm’s definition of a ‘social bandit’: ‘peasant outlaws whom the lord and state regard as criminals, but remain within peasant society, and are considered by their people as heroes, as champions, avengers, fighters for justice, perhaps even leaders of liberation, and in any case as men to be admired, helped and supported’.30 As a landholder, Hereward cannot be considered a peasant, and social banditry, according to Hobsbawm, is a phenomenon provoked by economic circumstances that do not apply to the eleventh century.31 Nevertheless, for Hobsbawm, the archetype of the social bandit, at least in the West, is Robin Hood,32 and in his opposition to the Norman occupation of England, Hereward becomes a precursor to this archetype in his adoption of a social cause, ‘the lineal ancestor of Robin Hood [and] the lineal descendant of the aristocratic heroes of Anglo-Saxon history’, as Keen puts it.33 After all, the actions of Hereward’s conceptual predecessors usually held no greater meaning beyond their own desires. The adventures had by the saga heroes and the instruction imparted upon the féndidi were beneficial to the community in the aggregate, but the individual embarked upon his path out of his own self-interest (indeed, as we have seen in the case of Hereward, as youths, heroic outlaws are often disruptive and destructive elements of society). Young Anglo-Saxon aristocrats did not fight against the king because he was a tyrant, but because they wished to take his place. Upon his return to England, however, Hereward’s personal goals and the interests of the community align, and his struggles begin to symbolize those of the defeated English. Beyond being an outlaw, he and his Männerbund become ‘avengers, fighters for justice, perhaps even leaders of liberation’. 29 Keen, The Outlaws of Medieval Legend, p. 11. 30 Hobsbawm, Bandits, p. 13. 31 Hobsbawm, Bandits, pp. 14-16. 32 Hobsbawm, Bandits, pp. 34-36. 33 Keen, The Outlaws of Medieval Legend, p. 21.



The Fens as Transgressive Environment The political ideas of resistance and independence that attached to Hereward are also ones that have long been associated with his environment. The fens have served as a site of resistance from their f irst mentions in Western literature, in large part because they are so well-suited for it. Those in East Anglia are formed by an alluvial plain that empties into the Wash. The areas near the coast are saltwater marsh, while the peatlands further inland are prone to flooding. The fens are changeable by their very nature – the vagaries of current and weather can submerge dry land or create new islands and paths through the reeds, while the majority of the area stands somewhere between – not land that can be settled, nor water that can be plied. The swampy environment nurtured diseases such as ague, while the oversaturated, unpredictable terrain confounded traditional forms of agriculture. For these reasons, the physical liminality of the fens was most often aligned with conceptual liminality as well: they were natural boundaries separating the amenable, productive farmlands of powerful kingdoms, and marginal spaces suitable for relegating undesirables. ‘The evidence suggests’, writes H.C. Darby, speaking of the Anglo-Saxon era, ‘that the Fenland became a frontier region between East Anglia and Mercia; that it was the resort of brigands and bandits’.34 Not surprisingly, the regions to which rebels were driven developed a reputation for rebellion. However, it also took on these associations, and attracted fugitives, because it happened to be well-suited for resistance as well. Its remoteness, intractability, and unforgiving environment made it an ideal refuge for both people and attitudes which were under attack elsewhere.35 The history of the fens, as a consequence, is punctuated by defiance against encroachment from the outside, in such ways that it often appears that the environment is allied with its inhabitants. In the very first mention of the region in Western literature, we see the Romans’ efforts at colonizing Britain being frustrated by the swampy terrain of the fens. Naturally, the natives selected such sites as refuge when in retreat. According to Cassius Dio, at the Battle of Medway the Britons ‘easily crossed because they knew where the firm ground and the easy passages in this region were to be found; 34 Darby, The Medieval Fens, p. 9. For a close look on fenland diseases, see Rotherham, The Lost Fens, pp. 28-29, 36-37 and 43-44. 35 These points are made more broadly in Giblett, Postmodern Wetlands, pp. 205-206; and Duckert, For All Waters, pp. 201-202.

Transgression in Transition af ter the Norman Conquest


but the Romans were not so successful’. Interestingly, while the Romans themselves were ineffective in this environment, their auxiliaries, drawn from the local environs, were much more successful at negotiating the terrain. This allowed their commanders to win the day despite the Britons’ advantage. However, they, too, ‘got lost in the swamps from which it was difficult to make their way out, and so lost a number of men’.36 Herodian, in his own account, recognizes how the British adapted their behavior to make full use of their environment; but their suitability to their surroundings is also attributable to their lack of civilization: Most of Britain is marshland because it is flooded by the continual ocean tides. The barbarians usually swim in these swamps or run along in them, submerged up to the waist. Of course, they are practically naked and do not mind the mud because they are unfamiliar with the use of clothing […] They are not familiar with the use of breastplates and helmets, considering them to be an impediment to crossing the marshes.

Whether dignified or sensible or not, the British were seen to have an advantage in the terrain. For this reason, we see also in Herodian the first account of an invader attempting to alter the makeup of the fens to make it more amenable to invasion. According to him, Emperor Septimus Severus built pontoons or causeways across the fens ‘so to fight on a firm standing of solid ground’.37 Archaeology also indicates that the Romans attempted to drain the fens for the purposes of agriculture, the largest and most long-lasting construction being Car Dyke on the eastern boundary of the Midlands.38 The departure of the Romans and the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons disrupted any continuity of human alteration to the fens, though the AngloSaxons, once established, also made modest attempts to guide the course

36 Cassius Dio, Dio’s Roman History, VII, pp. 418-419 (Book LX, chpt 20). Dio describes the auxiliaries as Kɛλτώί, or Celts, but this is a different term than that which he uses for the Celtic Britons (Bρɛττανώί). While the actual ethnic makeup of the auxiliaries for the Roman invasion of Britain is unknown, they are usually assumed to be from the Rhine Delta, either Frisians or Batavians, and would have been well-acquainted with fenland. Saddington, ‘The Origin and Nature of the German and British Fleets’, p. 228; and Carroll, ‘Supplying the Roman Fleet’, pp. 318-319. For another example of the Britons attempting to make use of watery terrain against the Romans, see Plutarch, Caesar, Plutarch’s Lives, VII, pp. 480-481 (chpt xvi). 37 Herodian, Herodian, I, pp. 358-361 (book III, chpt 14). 38 The most thorough examination of the fens in this period is Salway, The Fenland in Roman Times. See also Rackham, The History of the Countryside, pp. 383-384; Ravensdale, Liable to Floods, pp. 22-24; Purseglove, Taming the Flood, p. 40; and Rotherham, The Lost Fens, pp. 106-107.



of the waterways.39 It is from this era that we obtain the first evidence that there was something different, culturally, about the fens, dictated by its environment. They do not seem to be as densely populated, given the difficulty of subsistence there, as well as the need for greater amounts of land to earn a livelihood. Those who did eke out a living in this environment came to develop a culture, and a value system, distinct from their neighbors. Archaeological investigation of the Anglo-Saxon period in the region has uncovered a unique distribution of imported items. Products such as Continental coins and pottery, which were restricted to the possession of high-status households in the interior of Britain, were much more common in the coastal, fenland communities. The evidence points to a dynamic wherein environment dictated the relative value of goods, which in turned shaped a distinct culture. The fens discouraged commerce with the uplanders of the interior, yet facilitated sea trade, leading to greater dialogue and stronger cultural affinity with regions of the wider North Atlantic archipelago such as Frisia, which were themselves wetland communities. 40 The implication of these finds is a culture with standards of wealth, living, and society that were quite separate from the rest of Britain. These distinctions were reflected in contemporary depictions of fenland in Anglo-Saxon literature. We have already seen Bede describe wilderness areas as ‘latronum magis latibula ac lustra ferarum quam habitacula […] hominum’ (‘better suited to the hideouts of outlaws or haunts of wild animals than the settlement of humans’), and Guthlac’s demons themselves can be read as an exaggerated depiction of unfriendly locals.41 In Beowulf, Grendel ‘moras heold,/ fen ond fæsten’ (‘held the moors, the fen and fastness’); his mother retreats ‘to fenne’ after attacking Heorot. Moreover, the island that separates the isolated speaker of Wulf and Eadwacer from the fugitive Wulf is ‘fenne biworpen’ (‘surrounded by fens’). 42 The implication in all these works, as with the later sources, is that fenland is home to the strange and the estranged. Its medieval history told the same story. Since the time of Guthlac 39 Rackham, The History of the Countryside, pp. 384-386; and Rotherham, The Lost Fens, pp. 107-109. 40 Loveluck and Tys, ‘Coastal Societies, Exchange and Identity along the Channel and Southern North Sea Shores of Europe’, pp. 143-154. Bygott equates the environment of the modern fenland with that of the Low Countries as well in Eastern England, p. 121. 41 Bede, Ecclesiastical History, pp. 286-287. See p. 54 and also Borlik, ‘Caliban and the Fen Demons of Lincolnshire’, pp. 31-35. 42 Beowulf, lines 103b-104a and 1295b; and Wulf and Eadwacer, line 5. For the liminal nature of the fens and its signif icance for Grendel, see Stanley, ‘A Very Land-Fish, Languagelesse, a Monster’, pp. 82-86.

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and Æthelbald, such areas had remained as sanctuary for fugitives. It was at Athelney in the Somerset Levels, for example, where Alfred retreated and regrouped to regain his kingdom from Guthrum, and at nearby Glastonbury, years later, that Anglo-Saxon monks’ dispute with their Norman abbot descended into a bloody, deadly battle during a Mass.43 The Uprising of 1381 was sparked by events in the Essex marshes. 44 Again and again throughout the High Middle Ages these regions served as the strongholds of rebels. 45 In almost all of these examples, as Darby notes, those making use of the fens for political resistance were interlopers rather than native inhabitants. 46 Nevertheless, the importance of this region for subversive activity came to color outsiders’ views of its population as a whole, up until the present day. Quite frequently, the people of the fens are conflated with its environment – both are difficult to deal with, and the composition of one affects the constitution of the other. On rare occasions, this characterization is rendered positively, 47 but in most cases the fens, and the fenlanders, are considered a problem. An oft-quoted line is William Camden’s assessment of the fendwellers in 1586: ‘Genus hominum pro loci ingenio asperum, incultum, reliquis quos Vplandmen vocant inuidum, qui grallis sublime vt Gigantes spatiantes rei pecuiariae, piscaturae, & aucupio omnes incumbunt’48 (‘A type of people, in line with the character of this place – uncivilized, uncultivated, [and] hostile to the others they call the Upland-men – who all, like striding giants on their lofty stilts, apply themselves to the matters of livestock, fishing, and fowling’). The people are like the land, as they are shaped by the land. Just how the environment affects its inhabitants varies depending on one’s particular opinion of the locals, even today. Dorothy Summers, speaking today on the fenlanders of the seventeenth century, asserts that ‘the people themselves were certainly hardier than most, with a more sensitive awareness – fostered and nursed in a land of vast horizons – of the advantages of untrammeled freedom. The constant need to guard against 43 Keen, Outlaws of Medieval Legend, pp. 34-35; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, MS E, p. 92-93; and Florence of Worcester, Chronicon ex chronicis, pp. 16-17. For background, see Hiley, ‘Thurstan of Caen and Plainchant at Glastonbury’, pp. 57-90. 44 Purseglove, Taming the Flood, p. 35. 45 Semple, Influences of Geographic Environment, pp. 372-373. 46 Darby, The Medieval Fens, p. 143. See also Bygott, Eastern England, p. 145, on the apolitical nature of fenland culture. 47 ‘The spirit of the marshlands is the spirit of freedom…Their content is ethical rather than economic. They attract to their fastness the vigorous souls protesting against conquest or oppression, and then by their natural protection sustain and nourish the spirit of liberty’. Semple, Influences of Geographic Environment, p. 372. 48 Camden, Britannia, p. 360.



land floods and encroachments of the sea made them alert, resourceful, enduring and courageous’. 49 In contrast, Sidney B.J. Skertchly emphasizes the abundance of the fens, which results in a less flattering estimation of their inhabitants: ‘The soil was fertile, the waters, the woods, the air were tenanted with game. Famine could never be known for the land literally overflowed with food, and as a consequence the people degenerated into a thriftless race, whose only strong passion was a love of freedom’.50 The commonality in all of these characterizations, of course, is the perceived independence of the people of the fens. This is the prevailing quality of this community, whether one is discussing religious trends, attitudes towards national government or land enclosure, or culture.51 Commentators again often tie this to the environmental forces acting upon the population, and consider it a detriment. This is the assessment of John Bygott, for example, who claims, ‘As the Fenlanders were composed of scattered units whose daily life was such that individual action rather than organised effort was customary, it was not expected that they were capable of communistic work’.52 Bygott notes as well, however, that their independence was often non-political; not recognizing this can contribute to misreadings of historical events. The resistance of the ‘fen tigers’ to the drainage projects of Charles I and the riots against enclosure are often folded into the antimonarchism of the Civil War, for example, but in truth the situation was far more complex. The Parliamentarians did not find the fenlanders any more receptive when they, rather than the king, initiated land reclamation projects during the Commonwealth, despite whatever political accord they felt they held with the locals.53 Such indelible moments however served to reinforce the stereotype of insularity and independence to this day.54 49 Summers, The Great Level, p. 10. See also Borlik, ‘Caliban and the Fen Demons of Lincolnshire’, pp. 23-24. 50 Skertchly, The Geology of the Fenland, p. 17. 51 Bygott, Eastern England, pp. 141-145; Lindley, Fenland Riots and the English Revolution, p. 195 and Rotherham, The Lost Fens, pp. 27-28. 52 Bygott, Eastern England, p. 142. 53 Lindley, Fenland Riots and the English Revolution, pp. 161-187. Oliver Cromwell was himself a landholder in the region, and was considered at times an ally to the fenlanders. This did not keep him from supporting drainage projects during his protectorate, however. Even more confusing is that some of the fenlanders’ political allies were Levellers – or were described as Levellers – while ‘leveling’ was precisely what the fen tigers were seeking to do to the drainage projects. These individuals’ enemies tied them to the riots against outside development, which further conflated the two. Lindley, Fenland Riots and the English Revolution, pp. 188-222; and Hiltner, What Else is Pastoral?, pp. 125-127 and 154-155. 54 For example, see Sapsted, ‘These Fen folk don’t get on with incomers’, p. 15.

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Most of this commentary comes from the modern era, when the push for large-scale drainage began and prompted debate over the use and usefulness of the fens and its people. There is some indication that the Middle Ages saw a greater and more widespread appreciation for the natural features of the fens.55 However, we also know that attempts were made to modify them in the medieval era as well. Churches often sought to improve their lands with local drainage projects, and the first commission of sewers dates to 1258, in Lincolnshire.56 It is in these early years of human alteration of the environment – an area to which the churches, as well, had an early claim – when political change came to a community in transition, in an ecosystem noted for its mutability. And this, in turn, attracted individuals with highly unstable identities themselves.

The Abbey of Ely as Transgressive Space The Anglo-Saxon resistance after 1066 would not be complete without some attention paid to the role played by the monasteries of the fenland – Guthlac’s Crowland, Ramsey, Peterborough, and particularly the abbey of Ely.57 In some ways, monastic resistance to the Norman upheaval was to be expected. Simon Keynes notes that, in the wake of the Norman Conquest, ‘Abbots and their communities […] were instinctively protective of the traditions of their respective houses, and particularly conscious of their place in local society, making them a natural focus of resistance’.58 This tendency was encouraged in the fens, were isolation encouraged self-sufficiency and independence. Coupled with the fact that the natural environment made them comparatively difficult to reach, influence, or attack, these houses proved to be especially intractable. Of the fenland monasteries, Ely has the most extensive record of subversive activity, perhaps due to its high profile in the region. Its first surreptitious visitors of note were those enemies that intercepted Alfred Ætheling, son of Æthelred II and Queen Emma, who had sailed to England with his brother Edward to challenge Harold Harefoot and Earl Godwin for the crown. On the way to the island they blinded the prince, who 55 Summers, The Great Level, pp. 30-41; and Hiltner, What Else is Pastoral?, pp. 135-136. 56 Purseglove, Taming the Flood, pp. 41-44. See also Summers, The Great Level, pp. 41-49. 57 For assessments of the loyalty of the houses in this region, see Golding, Conquest and Colonization, pp. 27 and 42-43; Williams, The English and the Norman Conquest, p. 47; and Hayward, ‘Hereward the Outlaw’, p. 294. 58 Keynes, ‘Ely Abbey 672-1109’, p. 42. See also Southern, ‘Presidential Address’, pp. 247-248.



died soon after in the abbey. His grave became a natural focus for antiDanish and later anti-Norman resistance.59 Immediately after the Norman Conquest, Ely served as a refuge for the fleeing Stigand, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Ecgfrith, abbot of St. Albans. Both entrusted their relics to Ely, masking their true location through a clever stratagem.60 After the breaking of resistance in 1071, the monastery ceased any overt conflict with Norman rule, although it did host some f igures notable for their opposition to Norman culture, such as Goscelin of St. Bertin.61 In the following century, however, the island once again was called upon as a refuge for high-prof ile fugitives – f irst, briefly, for its bishop Nigel who had run afoul of King Stephen, and then for the fleeing noble Geoffrey de Mandeville. Geoffrey seized both Ely and Ramsey, and died withstanding Stephen’s siege.62 Even further out, after the failure of Simon de Montfort’s rebellion against Henry III, Ely once again became the stronghold of the final holdouts.63 Hereward and his men’s association with the monks of Ely, then, is natural given its reputation both during the Norman Conquest and in the subsequent centuries. Just as Æthelbald’s relationship with Guthlac was indicative of the connections between the religious and secular rebels of the time, so too does the alliance of Ely and Hereward exemplify that dynamic within the initial Anglo-Saxon resistance to Norman rule. In fact, is it useful to examine the events of 1071 in light of the past history of the fens, given how so much had changed in the interim, even while the same cycles repeated themselves. In doing so, we see how the dynamism of the liminal environment allows for ideas of resistance and belonging to remain mutable as well. Sarah Harlan-Haughey notes the ability of the fens to retain better than other 59 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, MS C, pp. 105-106; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, MS D, pp. 65-66; Encomium Emmae Reginae, pp. 44-47; and Keynes, ‘Ely Abbey 672-1109’, pp. 37-38. 60 Liber Eliensis, pp. 176-177 (book ii, chpt. 103); and Keynes, ‘Ely Abbey 672-1109’, p. 42. 61 Barlow, ‘Goscelin of St. Bertin and his Works’, pp. 140-141. He also appears in the Liber Eliensis, pp. 215-216 (book ii, chpt. 133), participating in a miracle of St. Æthelthryth. For Goscelin’s opposition to the Normans and its expression in his writing, see Barlow, ‘Goscelin of St. Bertin and his Works’, pp. 144-145; and Townsend, ‘Anglo-Latin Hagiography and the Norman Transition’, pp. 421-428. 62 For the particulars of Geoffrey’s rebellion, see Round, Geoffrey de Mandeville; Davis, ‘Geoffrey de Mandeville Reconsidered’, pp. 299-307; Hollister, ‘The Misfortunes of the Mandevilles’, pp. 18-28; Davis and Prestwich, ‘The Treason of Geoffrey de Mandeville’, pp. 283-317; Prestwich, ‘Geoffrey de Mandeville: Further Comment’, pp. 960-966; Davis, ‘Geoffrey de Mandeville: Final Comment’, pp. 967-968; and Prestwich and Davis, ‘Last Words on Geoffrey de Mandeville’, pp. 670-672. 63 William de Rishanger, Chronicle, pp. 60-63; and Bateman, Simon de Montfort, pp. 260-263.

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landscapes the history of its inhabitants. They are, as she puts it, ‘England’s kidneys’, which ‘process political occurrences for centuries after they take place’.64 Even as new events overtake the region, we see echoes of the past in how they manage them. In his introduction to Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, Rob Nixon describes a phenomenon he calls ‘temporalities of place’. ‘Place’, he observes, ‘is a temporal attainment that must be constantly renegotiated in the face of changes that arrive from without and within, some benign, some potentially ruinous’.65 Subjecting the seemingly solid concept of place to time undermines the assumptions of permanency that often apply to it. The ground does shift beneath our feet – slowly, perhaps imperceptibly – and so too does the way individuals divide, utilize, and conceptualize it. We have already encountered this process before, in our examination of doxa.66 Just as Guthlac altered the doxa of the fens in his wresting of the beorg away from the demons and his dedication of it to God, so too can it be said that he, and the establishment of his monastery of Crowland, renegotiated the meaning of this place over time. The one salient difference between both concepts may be that, while a change in doxa may be caused by a single, transgressive act, temporality of place is more gradual. Guthlac’s coming to the beorg and defeating its demons caused a swift change in doxa, but his residency there and the continuance of the foundation after his death is what altered the meaning of the place over time. Guthlac’s actions against the fen demons, however, also invoke another one of Nixon’s concepts, the contrast between ‘official’ and ‘vernacular’ landscapes: A vernacular landscape is shaped by the affective, historically textured maps that communities have devised over generations, maps replete with names and routes, maps alive to significant ecological and surface geologic features. A vernacular landscape, although neither monolithic nor undisputed, is integral to the socioenvironmental dynamics of community rather than being wholly externalized […] By contrast, an official landscape […] is typically oblivious to such earlier maps; instead, it writes the land in a bureaucratic, externalizing, and extraction-driven manner that is often pitilessly instrumental.67 64 Harlan-Haughey, The Ecology of the English Outlaw, p. 47. 65 Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, p. 18. 66 See pp. 59-162. 67 Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, p. 17.



It is easy to see how Guthlac’s actions on the beorg represent the imposition of an official landscape over a vernacular one – neither Christianity nor Guthlac are native to this region, and yet they arrive and reorganize everything to suit their needs and narrative. This imperialism of ideas is especially pointed if one considers the demons as symbols of the indigenous and/or pre-christian inhabitants of the fens.68 Heide Estes notes that, as far as the Guthlac materials are concerned, there were no permanent human residents in the fens to be dispossessed – they simply do not exist in the narrative, or do not count as human.69 However Guthlac’s fenland demons are to be understood, their fury and recriminations are certainly a response to being eclipsed. This is especially notable in Guthlac A. The extent to which the demons’ despair is articulated here is remarkable, especially given the work’s overarching sympathies; after all, even if their anguish is heartfelt, they are still demons, oppose God and his servant, and resort to force and torture to make him relent. From the perspective of the Christian poet, they perhaps misunderstand the impermanency of their situation. After all, it is specified that they were only granted the beorg ‘þurh lytel fæc’ – for a small time. God had always intended for the demons to be rousted from their stronghold by a betre hyrde70 (a ‘better guardian’), and now that Guthlac has arrived, that time has come. Their complaints, therefore, are a signal of their inability to know or accept the ways of God and are therefore not intended to elicit sympathy. Yet in their denial, incomprehension, and anger at God, the demons are like anyone else who loses their place without warning. The disaster that befalls them is quite literally an act of God, and as such is unpredictable and unrelenting. The involvement of the deity in the conflict between Guthlac and the demons therefore offers multiple interpretations. From a modern perspective, it is easy to read God as imperialist, with Guthlac acting out his manifest destiny by imposing an official landscape on the beorg. At the same time, however, if God is more accurately a force of nature, then what the demons endure in Guthlac A is what anyone must accept as a possibility in a place as mutable as the fens – the swift, pitiless reorganization of the environment to their clear disadvantage. That the demons were comfortable but then saw themselves turned out, then, is a warning that anyone could and

68 Smyth, ‘The Emergence of English Identity, 700-1000’, pp. 31-32; Siewers, ‘Landscapes of Conversion pp. 8-16; and Cohen, Medieval Identity Machines, pp. 142-146. 69 Estes, Anglo-Saxon Literary Landscapes, pp. 100-101. 70 Guthlac A, lines 214b-217.

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should expect the same – the temporality of place inherent to a liminal environment all but ensures it. It is worthwhile to keep this in mind when the clock is turned forward to the Norman Invasion and we see Nixon’s two concepts affect one another. In the space allowed by time, interlopers have the opportunity to ‘devise over generations’ and respond to the environmental reality of their surroundings. They can ally or integrate with the older inhabitants, and allow their traditions to inform or add to their own method of understanding their environment. Temporality causes an official landscape to become a vernacular one, and what was once an arriviste imposition in the late seventh century has become a cherished institution in the eleventh. And just as the older order was ultimately overcome by new circumstances, such too is the case for this ‘new’ vernacular. Both the Gesta Herwardi and the Liber Eliensis include a scene which expresses the ideal of Ely’s vernacular (and doomed) culture. Here one of William’s knights, Deda, is captured and brought to the rebels’ stronghold. Instead of being constrained, however, he is treated to a banquet where ‘non minus illic quam in aula regia deliciarum affluentia redundavit’ (‘no less an abundance of delights flowed out there than in the royal court’) according to the Liber Eliensis.71 They release him at his request, with the only stipulation being that he swear to tell William the truth of what he has seen. Of course, his report is extremely complimentary. He describes the rapport of the knights and the monks, who eat together, and the abbot, who sits like a Germanic chieftain in a high seat with his distinguished guests (the earls Edwin, Morcar, and Tosti, plus Hereward and his right-hand man Turkil72) around him. The Liber Eliensis even adds a choir that sings the sweetest office one may ever hear.73 This description of an alternate court in a liminal space relates to several concepts covered in this project. A monastery whose excellence at following the rule of St. Benedict is expressed through its talent at prayer is prominent in the Navigatio sancti Brendani.74 The court that stands as a mirror image to that which is socially acceptable corresponds to Kathryn Hume’s 71 Liber Eliensis, p. 179 (book ii, chpt. 105). 72 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports that Edwin had been killed in Scotland previously and was therefore not at Ely, an event reported in a contradicting section of the Liber Eliensis, p. 173 (book ii, chpt. 102). The ‘Tosti’ named is also not mentioned in the chronicle accounts, but is identified in the Gesta Herwardi as Tosti of Davenesse, a kinsman of Morcar. Gesta Herwardi, p. 373; and Williams, The English and the Norman Conquest, pp. 54-55. For Turkil, see Hart, ‘Hereward “The Wake”’, pp. 36-39; and Dalton, ‘The Outlaw Hereward “the Wake”’, pp. 18-19. 73 Liber Eliensis, p. 181 (book ii, chpt. 105); and Gesta Herwardi, p. 381. 74 Navigatio sancti Brendani, pp. 28-37 and 49-53.



concept of the ‘anti-hall’ as seen in Beowulf.75 Yet in the first instance the community described is one that desires little if any contact with the world, and the second is doomed, destroyed by an interloper soon after it is discovered. The scene in Ely, too, represents something that has passed. It recalls another liminal space, one recently considered by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, of a mysterious subterranean banquet hidden in a hill that a man stumbled upon one night, as recorded by William of Newburgh in his Historia rerum Anglicarum.76 Cohen connects this vision with the Celtic trope of unusual natural features or ancient burial sites as gateways to the Otherworld, but pivots to equate the mound-dwellers not with the fairy or the elves but with those whom the English displaced. The motif, he argues, whether found in Irish, Welsh, or English literature, ‘enfold[s] within it an untold story about the belatedness of a people to the land they possess, figuring the territory’s earlier inhabitants as […] [a] race whose traces are dwindling, whose presence lingers as if at dimming twilight’.77 Deda, the Norman knight brought unwillingly to Ely, experiences a similar sight, for the image conveyed by mealtimes at the abbey – of free Anglo-Saxons perpetuating their mores Anglorum and capable of mounting resistance to Norman martial and cultural aggression – was already functionally extinct by the time the stories of Hereward were written. In the setting of the story, the monks’ and rebels’ way of life is shown on the eve of their disappearance. Though preserved in memory, it was yet another old vernacular landscape that was to give way to a new official line. Yet memories can be long, and the fens, as we see, recalled enough of the older traditions that we can follow their development from arrival to primacy to obsolescence through the stories of figures such as Guthlac and Hereward. As with the accumulation of debris which creates the peat in the fens, we can observe the strata of previous vernacular landscapes and indigenous populations, each one layered on top of the other as events unfold. Harlan-Haughey has noted the lingering of history in such spaces, and how, when another outlaw figure arrives on the scene, ‘he is entering into a dialogue with other exiles […] who have done the same’.78 In these borderland, ever-changing environments, it is perhaps to be expected for outlaws and their actions to stand out most starkly in the histories of 75 Hume, ‘The Concept of the Hall in Old English Poetry’, p. 68. 76 Cohen, ‘Introduction: Infinite Realms’, pp. 1-4; the actual text can be found in William of Newburgh, The History of English Affairs, pp. 119-120 (book 1, chpt. 28). 77 Cohen, ‘Introduction: Infinite Realms’, p. 1. 78 Harlan-Haughey, The Ecology of the English Outlaw in Medieval Literature, p. 44.

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these regions. They are best suited for such spaces, as we have seen. Yet at the same times, we also see, in what Deda witnesses at Ely, the qualities of the outlaw applied to a more somber, less dynamic purpose – resistance not only to convention, but to change. The borderlands in this case are a repository for ancient customs and forgotten history, and its inhabitants agents of nostalgia. Their transgression is the obstinacy of the throwback, not the daring of the innovator.

Altering the Outlaw’s Environment In the story of resistance at Ely, Hereward and his men should not be identified as the only transgressive figures. William, after all, was on the move as well, crossing boundaries, using cultural capital creatively, and altering doxae. A foreigner himself whose claims to the throne rested on the international, multiethnic relationships he had forged, he led a force just as diverse as the rebels he opposed.79 While in no way an exile or an outlaw, he stands as an example of an establishment figure who successfully embodied many of their qualities and applied many of their tactics. Correspondingly, it is through his actions and legacy that change was wrought. The cultural change initiated by William in the fens is accompanied by the physical changes he engineers as well – indeed, William is remembered both in history and lore for the edifices he raised in England. Elsewhere, however, he is depicted as a destroyer, wiping away the old to make way for the new.80 His alterations at Ely are modest, but are the key to his victory: he builds a causeway, surmounting the boundary which both protected the island and gave the fens their identity.81 Once no longer an island, no longer a refuge, Ely rapidly became incorporated into William’s new kingdom and suppressed, at least for the time being, its distinct character. The event is pivotal for several reasons. For one, it marks the beginning of a new effort to alter the makeup of the fens, and the first done so on the initiative of a centralized government rather than local communities since the Roman 79 On the ethnic makeup of William’s forces, see Keats-Rohan, ‘William I and the Breton Contingent in the Non-Norman Conquest 1060-1087’, pp. 157-172. 80 Harlan-Haughey, The Ecology of the English Outlaw in Medieval Literature, pp. 89 and 93-94. 81 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, MS D, p. 85; The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, MS E, p. 90; Liber Eliensis, pp. 174 and 192-193 (book ii, chpts. 102 and 110) and Geffrei Gaimar, Estoire des Engleis, pp. 298-299. The causeway is less successful in Gesta Herwardi, pp. 376-378; and Liber Eliensis, pp. 177-178 (book ii, chpt. 104). See Darby, The Medieval Fenland, pp.109-110, for an attempt to place this causeway in the geography of Ely.



Empire. After William’s hold on England was secure, his chamberlain, Richard de Rulos, began a reclamation project in Deeping Fen: Richardus de Rulos, qui filiam & haeredem Hugonis de Evermue domini de Brunne, & Depyng duxerat in uxorem, multum agriculturae deditus, ac in jumentorum & pecorum multitudine plurimum delectatus, ad villam suam de Depyng amplificandam cum includere magnam portionem communis marisci, ac parta, ac pascua separalia facere disponeret.82 Richard de Rulos, who had taken as his wife the daughter and heir of Hugo de Evermue the lord of Brunne [Bourne] and Depyng, [and who] was very much interested in agriculture and enjoyed a large stock of cattle and sheep, was developing his community of Depyng so as to enclose a large portion of the communal fen, to manage to set apart the meadows and the pasture.

These efforts were localized and modest compared to the undertakings that would come in the modern era,83 but they laid the groundwork for them. They established the practice of conducting these projects from the top down, with the associates of the king making decisions on how to manage the land. Earlier efforts surely must have been organized and directed by a local leader, but not since the Romans had this decision come from so far up the social hierarchy and from someone so removed from everyday life in the region. As a result, over time, submitting the land to alteration became an act of obedience, with one’s belief in the efficacy and personal benefit of a given scheme secondary to that one determination. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that William’s causeway also marks another development in the course of change in the fens. It is the return of the strategy of shaping the terrain to overcome popular resistance. In the case of the siege of Ely, the connection is straightforward – building the causeway overcame the natural defenses of the fens and therefore made possible the military defeat of the resistance. However, in other instances, the connections understood between a land and its people in conversations about the fens became increasingly abstract. Fenland went from enabling transgressive behavior to encouraging it to being a prerequisite for it – not 82 Ingulph, Croylandensis Historia, pp. 77-78. For the difficulties of Ingulph as a source, see Searle, Ingulf and the Historia Croylandensis. 83 For an examination of post-conquest drainage projects, see Summers, The Great Level, pp. 43-49.

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surprising, given the general stereotypes of the inhabitants, as we have seen. The problem, as is so often the case with liminal environments, is that the fens allowed movement, in both the physical and conceptual senses. Bygott, speaking in the twentieth century, describes the traditional fen inhabitant ‘a rover on a small scale’ to whom ‘restraint of any kind was irksome’. This reflects attitudes from the early modern period, such as those of William Dugdale, who claimed that the undrained fens ‘was full of wandring Beggars’.84 Liminality too extended to the bodies of the locals, who were somewhere between human and animal.85 Such indeterminacy was intolerable to those looking upon the fens from the outside. To these people, the fens represented, and were the cause of, all of society’s ills – disease, savagery, irreligiosity, rebellion, addiction. Altering these areas and rendering them organized, safe, and predictable neatly aligned several of the interests and beliefs of the majority of commenters. It would make the area more manageable, both from an agricultural and political standpoint. If the dwellers of the region were as intractable as their fens, then straightening one out could do the same with the other. It is also true that, for nearly all of the individuals attempting to convert the fens into pasture or fields, they expected a healthy profit from their work. But it was also the case that a great many of them truly believed that draining the fens would be in the best interests of the local people. The disentangling of all of these motives could at times be impossible. Take, for example, a verse written in support of drainage, praising its effects: And with the change of Elements, suddenly There shall a change of Men and Manners be; Hearts, thick and tough as Hydes, shall feel Remorse, And Souls of Sedge shall understand Discourse, New hands shall learn to work, forget to Steal, New leggs shall go to Church, new knees shall kneel.86

This excerpt conveys most of the assumptions and preoccupations of the upland world with the fens, as well as the intended effects of drainage. If the environment, the ‘Elements’, are changed, then men and their customs 84 Dugdale, The history of imbanking and drayning of divers fenns and marshes, p. 145; and Bygott, Eastern England, p. 144. See also Hiltner, What Else is Pastoral?, pp. 145-147. 85 Lambert and Walker, Boston, Tattershall, and Croyland, p. 7. 86 History or Narrative of the Great Level of the Fenns, pp. 75-76. For discussion of the arguments in favor of draining in the early modern era, see Summers, The Great Level, pp. 50-63; Lindley, Fenland Riots and the English Revolution, pp. 2-5; and Purseglove, Taming the Waters, pp. 25-28.



will follow, since their surroundings have not only shaped their bodies but their very essences, their ‘Souls of Sedge’.87 The imagined and desired effects of these alterations are made clear as well: greater productivity, respect for the law, attendance at church, and submissiveness. Expecting that ‘new knees shall kneel’ conveys a double meaning – genuflecting at church, yes, but also the yielding to authority of the rioters who had destroyed so much equipment, stalled so much work, and sunk so much capital. The inhabitants of the fens typically felt differently. Generations of experience had adapted their practices to allow them to subsist successfully (if not indeed easily) in the fens, and they had long acclimated to whatever hardships existed in the environment.88 As they saw it, the real danger to their way of life – as with the demons on the beorg, as with the rebels and monks on Ely – were the intrusions of those who desired to dictate the course of their communities from afar. And again, the ones forced to change, and who suffer as a result, are the physical environment and the materially disadvantaged.89 Outside commentators spoke of their changes to the fens in positive terms; the projects were ‘improvements’, or ‘reclamations’. But as Giblett asks, ‘reclaimed from what? For what? For whom?’90 The aggregate effect of these undertakings was the destruction of the ecosystem of the fens and of their indigenous communities. Historians of the fens have equated the treatment of the fenland inhabitants in the late medieval and early modern period with the treatment of indigenous peoples under European colonialism. Bygott notes that both endeavors – the drainage projects and ‘trade and administration […] in Nigeria, in East or Central Africa’ – operated on roughly the same economic model. Both were also understood to be combating ‘barbarism’ in their respective regions.91 Harlan-Haughey makes similar observations but casts events in more environmental terms, wherein the outlaws and the people they represent are endangered species in danger of being eradicated by outside encroachment.92 Yet the cycle repeats itself again, and another off icial landscape is superimposed over the old one. By the modern era, even partisans of the fens accepted the new narrative about them. The Victorian writer Charles 87 That the environment could shape a person’s or a people’s personality was a common belief in the early modern period. See Floyd-Wilson, ‘English Epicures and Scottish Witches’, pp. 131-161. 88 Summers, The Great Level, p. 10; and Borlik, ‘Caliban and the Fen Demons of Lincolnshire’, pp. 23-24. 89 Hiltner, What Else is Pastoral?, p. 134. 90 Giblett, Postmodern Wetlands, p. 3. 91 Bygott, Eastern England, p. 140. 92 Harlan-Haughey, The Ecology of the English Outlaw, pp. 98-100.

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Kingsley is a good example. Though a champion of the fens as an aesthetic space and a setting for heroic action, he nevertheless accepted uncritically the supposed benefits of their loss. In his piece ‘The Fens’, he describes the austere beauty of the natural fens, then reflects on their loss: They are all gone now. No longer do the ruffs trample the sedge into a hard floor in their fighting-rings, while the sober reeves stand round, admiring the tournament of their lovers, gay with ears and tippets, no two of them alike. Gone are ruffs and reeves, spoonbills, bitterns, avosets; the very snipe, one hears, disdains to breed. Gone, too, not only from Whittlesea but from the whole world, is that most exquisite of English butterflies, Lycaena dispar – the great copper; and many a curious insect more. Ah well, at least we shall have wheat and mutton instead, and no more typhus and ague; and, it is to be hoped, no more brandy-drinking and opium-eating; and children will live and not die.93

An environment, and the species it hosted, all sacrificed in the name of a model of civilization that was unquestionable by Kingsley’s time. The reasons for which locals may fight for the fens no longer even registered, and in Kingsley we see care for them – and even nostalgia for their past – accompanied by the unexamined acceptance of drainage as a social good and positive progress. Such is the message conveyed by Kingsley’s reimagining of Hereward’s struggle, in his novel Hereward the Wake. That Kingsley saw Hereward as an appropriate heroic subject and the fens as a dramatic backdrop speaks to his affection for the region and sympathy for what was imagined, in the nineteenth century, to be his cause (as the book’s subtitle, The Last of the English, conveys).94 As in the medieval accounts, Hereward and his allies represent an ideal and a way of life at the brink of extinction, and Kingsley’s interpretation of events makes the erasure of Hereward’s legacy, and the imposition of an official landscape at the expense of the vernacular, particularly thorough. As in the Gesta Herwardi, Kingsley’s Hereward is lord of Bourne.95 After his death, the land eventually comes into the hands of Richard de Rulos, William’s chamberlain. Richard was indeed the Lord of 93 Kingsley, Prose Idylls, pp. 90-91. For examination of Kingsley’s attitude towards the fens, see McColluch, ‘Drowned Lands’, pp. 73-85. 94 Defending the fens as an appropriate site for heroic action was one of the primary goals of the work’s introduction. Kingsley, Hereward the Wake, pp. 1-14. 95 Gesta Herwardi, p. 341. Historically, Hereward’s lands were nearby Bourne but did not include it.



Bourne in history, but in Kingsley’s telling he gained control of it by marrying Hereward’s granddaughter, who is named Torfrida like her grandmother. Having literally assumed Hereward’s title and lands and having symbolically taken his place as the husband of a Torfrida, he proceeds to drain the fens, just like the historical Richard. He honors his predecessor, however, and decides to replace Torfrida’s grandparents’ headstone with a fresh one. What follows, at the very end of the novel, is this exchange, which Richard begins: ‘But what shall we write thereon?’ ‘What but that which is there already? “Here lies the last of the English”’. ‘Not so. We will write – ‘Here lies the last of the old English’. But upon thy tomb, when thy time comes, the monks of Crowland shall write – ‘“Here lies the first of the new English; who, by the inspiration of God, began to drain the Fens”’.96

There is, in this exchange, the expression of the imposition of the official landscape, and of the temporality of place, epitomized. Hereward’s identity and holdings are co-opted, and his meaning subjected to revision by the ancestors of those he defied, overruling the wishes of his descendent.97 The alteration of the land, the thing that defeated him, is understood as an obvious good, and becomes the thing that defines ‘the English’, when in the past it was opposition to such schemes that marked Hereward ‘the last of the English’. The destruction of the environment is directly tied to the course of history and the development of identity in the English fens.

Move Forward Hereward, and the stories he inspired, indicates the trajectory of outlawry in the North Atlantic as it moved from the early medieval era into the High Middle Ages. The benefits it granted, and the difficulties it raised, remained something for societies to grapple with. The interconnectedness of the cultures in the North Atlantic archipelago, and the ease with which they interact, endured. Liminality in all of its manifestations persisted, as did both the exploitation and abhorrence of it. Yet just who benefited from this dynamic, and who in turn bore the brunt of it, was a matter that was 96 Kingsley, Hereward the Wake, p. 424. 97 That the descendent is female, and that land, which here is also being dominated and controlled by a man, is often figured as female, is important to note too.

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ever-changing, dependent on the vagaries of history. Circumstances colluded in the early Middle Ages to grant the peoples of the North Atlantic – and especially the Anglo-Saxons – the means by which they fostered their cultures and engaged the world with confidence and aplomb. William’s invasion marked a turning point in this narrative, as an influential and powerful new player appeared on the scene. Yet it was not, ultimately, the end of English culture and certainly not the end of the importance of the outlaw – quite the opposite, in fact. The Anglo-Saxons, too, like the Normans, had moved to Britain and through their dynamism made a place for themselves. It is only by transgressing, by exploring the spaces of those different from them, that they became a distinct people; it would be by similarly reaching out and crossing the boundaries of culture that they would incorporate the Normans and be confident actors once more. Such was their conduct, and as it led them well before, so would it steer them right again. The literature which would be produced in the generations after would still employ mobility to the ends outlined here. The multiculturalism of the region and power derived from its engagement would be reflected in the Brut, and the wider world held in fascination in John Mandeville’s Travels. God would direct the barques of worthies such as King Horn and Custance, and heroes such as Havelok the Dane would still come from abroad. Outlaws like Robin Hood would persist in harrying authority. Liminal figures such as Sir Orfeo would continue to ply the boundaries between worlds, and less fantastical individuals such as Margery Kempe would transgress social barriers through their own adventures abroad. Geoffrey Chaucer would also exploit the liminal potentials of travel in the Canterbury Tales, where perhaps the ability of mobility to collapse cultural distinctions and subvert authority was put to its greatest use. All of these considerations remained constant, while the societies that inhabited the North Atlantic archipelago grew and changed. As the denizens of the region moved ever forward, they continued to conduct themselves like the boundary-breakers they were.

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Index Abingdon Chronicle 200 Abraham 74, 97 Achilles 67 Acts of the Apostles 109 Adam 45 Adomnán 76, 85, 131n Ælfric of Eynsham 83-84, 116, 132 Æsir 189-194 Æthelbald of Mercia, King 146-148, 150-151, 158, 198, 209, 212 Æthelred II, King 64, 128, 211 Æthelstan, King 41n Æthelwine (bishop) 199 Africa (colonial) 220 aglæca, aglæcan 164, 168-177 Aidán (missionary) 76 Ailbe (saint) 88 ailithre 38, 40, 69-88, 90, 97-103, 106, 139, 141, 144, 153, 164 definition of 70-71 potential influence in England 69, 105-108, 144 Aldhelm 35, 116, 130, 132-133 Alfred, King 40-41, 48-49, 69, 123, 145, 147, 209 Alfred Ætheling 211-212 ambue 28, 75 Andreas (character) 21, 162, 169 Andreas (poem) 128, 140, 162, 167-168 Anglo-Saxon Chronicle 28, 69, 73, 78, 199-200 Anglo-Saxons 28-29, 33, 40-41, 58-60, 63, 69, 83-84, 105-108, 110-117, 128, 139-141, 143, 147, 157, 162, 164, 171, 175, 197, 199-202, 207-209, 211-212, 215-216, 223 attitudes toward movement 18-21, 45-46, 110 in Ireland and Iceland 33 manuscripts 38-41 succession practices 59-60, 65, 67, 146, 204-205 Antony of Egypt 74-75, 77, 82, 107, 122-124, 133, 157; see also Vita Antonii Anzaldúa, Gloria 25, 64-65, 149, 161-162, 179-180 archipelagos 26-32, 36-38, 107; see also islands, North Atlantic Ocean ard rí 28 Arrow-Odd (saga figure) 186, 194 asceticism 139-144, 151-159 Ásgarðr 190-191, 193 Asser 48-49 Athanasius 122-123, 157 Athelney 209 Atlantic Ocean see North Atlantic Ocean Augustine of Hippo 80, 109n, 110, 116, 140, 143-144

Babylonian Captivity 108 Bárð Dumbsson (saga figure) 186-188 Bárðar saga Snæfellsás 186-187 Bartholomew the Apostle 174 Batavians 207n Battle of Medway 206-207 Bede 28, 33-34, 105-106, 109n, 153, 208 as aglæca 169-170 beirid breth 92-93 Benedict Biscop 151n Benedict of Nursia 123, 144, 215 Benedictines 107, 144; see also céli Dé beorg 156-159, 163, 170, 213-215, 220 Beowulf (character) 21, 66, 139, 158, 162, 166-167, 169, 176-177 Beowulf (poem) 45, 63, 66-67, 167-168, 176, 208, 216 dating 39-41 berserkgangr 63, 141-142 Bestla (goddess) 192 Betha Coluim Cille 74, 76, 97 Bible depictions of movement in 107-108 Bjarmar 182, 195; see also Finnar Bjarmaland 182, 185 Bjarnar saga Hítdælakappa 56 Boniface (missionary) 116, 151n Bobbio 75, 77 Book of Lismore 74, 78, 142 Bor (god) 192 borders see liminality Bósa saga ok Herrauðs 185, 190 Bourdieu, Pierre 24-25, 48-49, 61, 65, 159-162, 164, 175 Bourne 221 Brecca 66 Brendan of Birr 88 Brendan of Clonfert 86, 88, 96-101, 103-104, 130, 132-133 bretwalda 28 Britons 29, 33-34, 36, 49, 107n, 145-146, 171, 175, 179, 200, 206-207, 216 Brut 223 Cadac-Andreas (Irish missionary) 77 Cædwalla, King 60, 151n Cain 44, 59n, 109n Camden, William 209 capital (cultural, economic, social, symbolic) 47-50, 60-61, 65, 139, 150, 204, 217 Car Dyke 207 Cassian, John 82-83, 122-124, 127-129, 133-134, 157, 173-174 Cassius Dio 206-207

254  Cedd (saint) 153 céli Dé 69n Centwine, King 60 Cenwalh, King 151n Ceolred of Mercia, King 146, 150 Charlemagne 77 Charles I, King 210 Chaucer, Geoffrey 18, 223 Christ 72, 81, 95, 109, 136, 140, 143, 164 Christ I 140 Christ II 113-114 Christianity 72-73, 109-110, 122, 139-144, 157, 185, 189, 194, 200, 214 ‘Celtic’ 106, 107n conversion to 34-36, 77, 101, 107 Cnut, King 33, 39, 59n, 64 Collationes 82, 122 Colmán (Irish missionary) 76 Columba (Colum Cille) 74, 76, 93, 98, 130-131; see also Betha Coluim Cille, Vita sancta Columbae Columbanus 75-76, 79-81, 83, 116, 131-132; see also Vita Columbani comitatus 20, 57 conduct 23, 35, 79-107, 110-137, 159, 164-178, 189 definition of 26 Conferences see Collationes Confessio sancti Patricii 71 Conn Cétchathach (Irish high king) 28 Connacht 54 Cormac mac Cuilennáin 71-72 Cormac Ua Liatháin 98 (Irish explorer) Cornwall 69, 204 Constantinople 179, 189 Cresswell, Tim 16, 24-25, 160-162, 164 Cromwell, Oliver 210n Crowland 139, 198, 211, 213 cú glas 28, 54, 75 Custance (Man of Law’s Tale) 223 Cuthbert 106, 107n, 151n; see also Vita sancti Cuthberti Cynewulf 110-117 Dál Riata 33, 76 Danes see Denmark Daniel (biblical figure) 170 Danish Invasions 40-41, 59, 147; see also Denmark dating 38-41 David (biblical figure) 108 De mensura orbis terrae 77-78 Deda (Norman knight) 215-217 Deeping Fen 218 Dega (hermit) 87 demons 44, 100, 121, 124, 146, 149-150, 152-159, 163, 169-171, 174-176, 208, 213-215, 220; see also Satan Denmark 41, 66, 183, 199, 212 in Beowulf 165-167


deorad 28, 75 deorad Dé 75 The Descent into Hell 140 The Desert Fathers 12, 71, 73-79, 81, 95-96, 122-124, 152, 156, 172, 174-175; see also Antony of Egypt, Macarius of Alexandria, Cassian, John, and Paul the Hermit Devil see Satan Diarmait mac Muirchada 51n, 201 Dicuil 77-78 Didache 80 discretio spirituum 122-135, 172-178, 195 Donatists 143-144 doxa 159-170, 175, 192, 213, 217 Drangey (island) 170-171 druids 91, 97-99 Dublin 32 Dumb Bárðsson (saga figure) 186-187 dwarves (mythological) 189-191 Eadric the Wild 199-200, 202 East Anglia 179, 198, 206 Ecgfrith (abbot) 212 echtrae, echtrai 84-85, 91 Edda 189-190, 196 Edward the Confessor, King 204, 211 Edwin, Earl 200, 215 Edwin of Deira, King 151n Egils saga Skallagrímssonar 54-55, 184 Egil Skallagrímsson (saga figure) 55, 180, 184, 187-188 Egypt 73-75, 82, 95-96, 107-108, 143, 152, 156, 174 and the name ‘gypsy’ 50-51n Eírik the Red 179 elegies 20-21 Elene (character) 21, 114-115, 162, 170 Elene (poem) 112 Elijah 88, 103 Ely 198-199, 211-212, 215-218, 220 Emma of Normandy, Queen 64, 211 emporium, emporia 180 Encomium Emmae Reginae 64 English Civil War 210 Enoch 88, 103 Eosterwine (saint) 151n Epistles 109, 122 Essex 209 excommunication 143 Exeter Book 39, 117, 120, 145 exile 20-21, 43-47, 51-54, 56, 59, 63, 67, 71, 139-144, 146-147, 163, 217; see also wrecca, wreccan and outlawry Exodus (book of the Bible) 108 Exodus (poem) 140 Faeroe Islands 37 Fárbauti (giant) 193 Fates of the Apostles 110-112, 114, 162 Felix of Crowland 144-148, 151, 153-157, 159, 173


fénnid, fénnid see fían, fíana fens 153, 155-156, 164, 198, 205-222 Fiacha, King (immram character) 102-103 fían, fíana 14-15, 58, 60, 62, 65, 141-142, 146, 202, 204-205 The Fight at Finnsburg 21, 44 Finán (Irish missionary) 76 Finn Cycle 14, 58-59, 202 Finn MacCumaill 14, 58, 65, 202 Finnar 181-196 Finnén (saint) 87 Finns 182-183; see also Finnar Fir Rois (immram characters) 102-103 fjörbaugsgarðr 56, 180 Flanders 204 flyma, flyman 43, 59, 158 foster-brothers 54, 91, 98 fornaldursögur 185 France 201, 203 Franciscans 144 Frey (god) 191-192 Freyja (goddess) 192 Frisians 207n, 208 Fursa (Irish missionary) 76 Geatland 66 gefera, geferan 147, 150 gender 63-64 Geoffrey de Mandeville 212 Gesta Herwardi 197, 199-200, 203, 205, 215, 221 giants see jötunn, jötnar Gísla saga Súrsson 54 glasmartre 73-74 Glastonbury 209 Godwin, Earl 211 Goscelin of St. Bertin 212 Grágás 33n, 53 Greenland 179 Gregory I, Pope 113-114, 123-124, 130, 134, 164 Grendel 38, 44, 53, 164-169, 177, 208 Grendel’s Mother 53, 66, 166-167, 169 Grettir the Strong (saga figure) 157, 170-171, 187-188, 193 Grettis saga 54; see also Grettir the Strong Grim Hairy-Cheek (saga figure) 186 Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu 56 Gusir (Sámi king) 186 Guthlac A 145-146, 149-159, 163-164, 172, 214 Guthlac B 153 Guthlac of Crowland 106, 107n, 139, 144-159, 162, 170-176, 179, 198, 200, 208, 211-216 material 39, 144-145 folk etymology of name 153-154 see also Guthlac A, Guthlac B, and Vita sancti Guthlaci Guthrum 209 Hákon Hákonarson, King 201 Hallbera (saga figure) 186

255 Hallbjörn Half-Troll (saga figure) 186 Hallfreðar saga 55 Hallfreð Troublesome-Poet (saga figure) 55, 180 Halogaland 183-186 Harald Fair-Hair, King 54-55, 184 Harold Harefoot, King 211 Hartgar, Bishop of Liège 77 Harðar saga ok Hólmverja 54 Havelok the Dane 223 Hebrides 32, 37 Henry II 201 Henry III 212 Heorot 164-167, 208 Herefordshire 199 Hereward the Wake 197-200, 202-205, 212, 215-217, 221-222 Hereward the Wake (novel) 221 The Hermit and the Outlaw 11-13 Hermit of Tory 93-97 hermits 11-13, 87-88, 93, 142 Herodian 207 Heron (hermit) 128, 174 Historia monachorum 96 Historia rerum Anglicarum 216 Hrafnhild (saga figure) 186 Hrafnista (region) 186-188 Huns 50 Hygelac 66 Iberia 179 Iceland 28, 33, 53, 63, 77-78, 179, 183, 187, 200-202 sagas 54, 59, 179-181, 202 Icelanders 28, 33-34, 54-58, 60-61, 65, 157, 181, 189, 200 manuscripts 39 see also Norse immram, immrama 38-39, 84-104, 106-107, 115, 117, 124, 129-130, 137 Immram Brain mac Febail 85, 88, 99, 101 Immram curaig Maíle Dúin 85, 87-88, 91-98, 101, 103 Immram curaig Ua Corra 85, 87-88, 90, 97, 99, 103 Immram Snédgusa ocus Maic Riagla 85-87, 93, 97, 99, 102-103 Ingimund Þórsteinsson (saga figure) 184, 187-188 Ireland 28-29, 33, 58, 61-62, 69-104, 115, 142, 144, 174, 179, 200-202, 204 The Irish 28-29, 33-34, 41, 58, 60, 65, 69-104, 183, 216 influence on Anglo-Saxon England 105-108 manuscripts 39, 77, 85-86 islands 26-32, 37-38, 89-90 sea creatures disguised as 117, 119, 130, 170, 194-195 see also archipelagos Íslendingasögur 184 Iðunn (goddess) 192-193

256  Jasconius 130 Jerusalem 48, 108-109, 162, 170 Jerome 131, 133-134 Jesuits 50n Jews 50, 164 biblical 108, 140 in Elene 162-163 Job (book of the Bible) 130, 133 Johannes Scottus Eriugena 77 John the Baptist 82 Jonah (biblical figure) 99, 115, 129-134 Jörð (giantess) 192 Joseph (Genesis) 108 jötunn, jötnar 184, 186-187, 189-194, 195 Judith 64 Juliana 112-113, 115, 176 Kempe, Margery 223 Ketil Trout (saga figure) 186 King Horn 223 Kingsley, Charles 220-222 Knights Templar 50n konungasögur 184 Kveldúlf Bjálfason (saga figure) 55, 187-188 landscapes, ‘vernacular’ and ‘official’ 213-217, 222 latecoming passengers 98-101, 129, 133 Laufey (goddess) 193 Leif Eíriksson 179 Levellers 210n Leviathan 130-134 Liber Eliensis 215 liminality 15-16, 25-26, 38, 62-68, 143-146, 148149, 152-154, 156-157, 161-170, 176-178, 180-199, 203, 206, 212, 215-217, 219, 222-223 Lincolnshire 211 Loki 192-194 Luxeuil 77 Mac Cuill (opponent of Patrick) 71, 73, 85, 101-103 Macarius of Alexandria 82 Magyars 50 Mandeville, John 223 Männerbund, Männerbünde 56-61, 63, 65-68, 141, 143, 145, 147, 150, 203-205 history of term 56n Marbán (hermit) 142 Mayo 33 Mead of Poetry 189-192 Melkorka (saga figure) 61 merchants 49-50 Mercia 29, 145-152, 179, 206 Mermedonians 128, 162-163, 168-170 miles Christi 153-156, 158 Mímir (god) 191 Miðgarðr 191 Mjölnir 191-193


Mobility see movement Mongols 50 Morcar, Earl 199, 215 Moses 143 Movement 15-22, 25, 27, 43-50, 64, 78-104, 127-129, 135-137, 145-149, 197-198 difficulty in Middle Ages 21 in language 23, 26, 80-81, 92-93, 110-112, 148 medieval opinions of 16, 21-22 modern opinions of medieval 16-21, 30-31, 45-46 Muirchú maccu Macthéni 71, 101, 131 muirchuirthe 28, 75 Mýrkjartan, King (saga figure) 61 Navigatio sancti Brendani 86, 88-89, 96-101, 103-104, 129-130, 195, 215 source history 86n Nebuchadnezzar 44, 162 Niall Noígíallach (Irish high king) 28 Das Nibelungenlied 44 Nigel, Bishop 212 Njörð (god) 192 Noah 108 nomads 50 Normans 197-205, 209, 211-212, 215-218, 221-223 The Norse 32, 33, 37, 40-41, 58, 77, 179-196 mythology 181, 189-194 see also Danish Invasions, Icelanders North America 179, 183 North Atlantic Ocean 26-37, 49, 55, 57-58, 68, 78, 162, 179, 182, 196-197, 202-204, 222-223 North Sea see North Atlantic Ocean Northumbria 33, 77, 106, 204 Norway 40, 54-55, 61, 183, 189, 201 Novgorod 179 obedience 97-101 Oceania 31 Offa of Mercia, King 29 Ögmund Tussock (saga figure) 194-195 Ohthere (King Alfred’s retainer) 40-41, 49 Óláf Peacock (saga figure) 34n, 55, 61, 180 Óláf the Saint, King 51n Óláf Tryggvason, King 51n, 56n, 184 Orderic Vitalis 200 Orfeo 223 Orkneys 32, 37 Örvar-Odds saga 194 Oswald of Bernicia, King 151n Óðin 63, 141, 190-191 outlaw as cultural figure 202-205 as dangerous 43, 52-53 etymology 59 execution and burial of 156-157 see also outlawry outlawry and asceticism 141-144, 151-159, 177



and mobility/liminality 15, 22, 25, 43-52, 62-68, 139, 141-144, 177 definition of 13-15, 52, 59 relationship to exile 51-53 see also exile The Panther 118-122, 135-137 The Partridge 118, 120, 136-137 Patrick 71, 101, 131 Paul the Apostle 74-76, 109, 122 Paul the Hermit 73n, 88 penance 72, 78-79 peregrinatio see ailithre Peter the Apostle 109 Peterborough 199, 211 The Phoenix 39 Physiologus (Latin) 39, 120, 129-130, 136, 195 Physiologus (Old English) 117-137; see also The Panther, The Partridge, The Whale Picts 34, 36, 76 pilgrimage 17, 70-71; see also ailithre preachers 50 Pride 130-136, 171 Psalms 109n, 131 pseudo-outlawry 17, 54-64, 180-181 definition of 15 Ramsey 211-212 recke, recken 44 Resignation 141 revenants 157 Richard de Rulos 218, 221-222 rite de passage 61-68, 141, 143, 145, 148, 150, 162, 180, 203 Robin Hood 205, 223 Roma 50 Romans 206-207, 218 Rome 19, 39, 48, 109, 200 Sámi 182-184, 186; see also Finnar Satan 44-45, 117, 119-120, 123-126, 128, 136-137, 140, 155, 169, 173-174 Scotland 32, 37 The Seafarer 20, 70, 139, 141 Sedulius Scottus 77, 79 Septimus Severus, Emperor 207 setting adrift, as punishment 71-72, 84, 87, 101-102, 107 Shepherd of Hermas 122, 173 Shetland Islands 37 Siegfried (Nibelungenlied) 44 Siegmund (Nibelungenlied) 45 Sif (goddess) 191 Sigemund (Beowulf ) 45, 63, 67, 169 Sigmund (Völsunga saga) 45, 63 Sigyn (goddess) 193 Simon de Montfort 212 Sinfjötli (saga figure) 63 Siward Bearn 199

Skalla-Grím Kveldúlfsson (saga figure) 55 Skellig Michael 77 skóggangr 53, 56, 200 Sleipnir 191, 193 Snorri Sturluson 63, 141, 189-194, 196 ‘social bandit’ 205 Solomon and Saturn 128-129 Somerset Levels 209 South Saxons 60 Stephen, King 212 Stigand, Archbishop of Canterbury 212 Suibne (legendary Irish king) 142 Synod of Whitby 77 Tacitus 57-58 ‘temporality of place’ 213-217, 222 terra repromissionis sanctorum 88-89 Theodolf, Bishop of Orléans 77 Þórólf Kveldúlfsson (saga figure) 55, 184-185 Þórr 191-193 Togail Bruidne Da Derga 54, 62n tonsure 72-73 Torfrida (granddaughter of Turfrida) 222 Tosti, Earl 215 transgression 160-178, 200, 217, 223 definition of 23-26, 62, 160 travel see movement travelling performers 49-50 Tripartite Life 71 troll, troll 184, 186-190, 195 Tromdámh Guaire 142 Turfrida (wife of Hereward) 204 Turkil (follower of Hereward) 215 Turks 50 Turner, Victor 25, 62, 65, 144 Turold (Norman abbot) 199 Utgarðr 191 van Gennep, Arnold 61-62 Vanir 189-190, 192 vargr, vargar see wolves Vatnsdæla saga 184, 187 Vercelli Homilies 116, 132 via regia 82-83, 124, 129, 133-134, 173-174 Vignir Oddsson (saga figure) 194-195 Vikings 56-57; see also Danish Invasions, Icelanders, The Norse Vínland 179 Vita Antonii 75, 82, 122-123, 157, 174; see also Antony of Egypt Vita Columbani 75-76; see also Columbanus Vita Patricii 71, 101; see also Patrick Vita sancta Columbae 79, 85, 88, 98, 130; see also Betha Coluim Cille and Columba (Colum Cille) Vita sancti Cuthberti 104-105; see also Cuthbert Vita sancti Guthlaci 144-159, 174; see also Guthlac of Crowland

258  Vita sancti Mochoemog 73-74 Völsunga saga 45, 63 The Wanderer 20, 51, 139-141 wearg, weargas see wolves Welsh see Britons West Saxons 60 The Whale 117-137, 164, 171, 176, 195 dating 39 whales 98, 117-122, 124, 130-135, 169-170 Widsith 21, 44 The Wife’s Lament 63, 158 Wihtberht (missionary) 106


William of Newburgh 216 William the Conqueror 199-200, 215, 217-218, 221, 223 Willibrord (missionary) 106 wolves 53-55, 62 wrecca, wreccan 52, 63, 67, 139-144, 146-147, 158-159, 165 definition of 43-47, 59, 67-68 Wulf and Eadwacer 63, 208 Yellow Book of Lecan (YBL) 86, 102 York 32, 55